Form alliances to cut drug costs’
Cuts could be made to the price of prescription drugs if the Government worked with other countries to negotiate better rates, the health watchdog’s chief executive said yesterday.
Ricky Brathwaite, head of the Bermuda Health Council, explained that the organisation was looking at how to save money on drug procurement.
Dr Brathwaite said: “The global market is pretty volatile when it comes to prescription drugs, especially if you don’t have leverage.
“One of the things that the Pan American Health Organisation always says is that countries by themselves will never get the best prices for drugs … they say the best way to get good prices for drugs, is to partner with other countries and purchase with them.
“Not only do we not partner with other countries in purchasing, but even within Bermuda, we have individual pharmacies purchasing, or we have a small pharmacy group purchasing, or we have BGA.
Dr Brathwaite explained: “So we’re never going to get, from a volume standpoint, the best prices for drugs unless we do it cooperatively.”
Dr Brathwaite added that raised the question of whether the Government needed to “step in to help in the procurement process to negotiate from a country to country standpoint, instead of a private business to country standpoint”.
He said: “It doesn’t happen currently, but it’s something that we do recommend — that the Government does get a little more involved in the procurement of drugs.
“People may say it’s ‘more government involvement’, but the reality is that a government ... is always going to get more leeway in terms of negotiation than a private business, especially when it comes to these kinds of big things.
“For example, in the eastern Caribbean there must be eight, nine or ten countries that work together in purchasing and they’ve achieved 20 per cent savings in their drugs.”
Dr Brathwaite said that Bermuda was “totally dependent on the global market for drugs”.
He explained that unless there were strong relationships or negotiating arrangements with pharmaceutical companies, buyers were prone to price hikes.
Dr Brathwaite said: “The Pan American Health Organisation does bulk purchasing for multiple countries, on some drugs.
“There is huge benefit to co-operative procurement. We haven’t even touched the surface of our ability to effect and impact our drug prices, in a positive way, by doing that.
“We’re spending a lot of money on prescription drugs and we’re expecting to spend a lot more money on prescription drugs, not only as the market for prescription drugs becomes more modern and they offer more drugs for more things, but as our population ages.
“Since we haven’t started in the best place when it comes to chronic disease and it takes a while for a population to get healthier, we anticipate that the need for prescription drugs is going to increase.”
The Paho explained on its website that its Strategic Fund was set up in 2000 “to facilitate the acquisition of strategic public health supplies” for its member states.
The website added: “Through technical support in procurement, the fund promotes the continuous availability of quality strategic supplies at low cost.”
It highlighted that 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean had signed agreements with Paho by June 2018 to use the fund.
Bermuda was included on its list.
Dr Brathwaite said that education was needed to make people aware of the importance of taking medication as prescribed.
He added: “When you don’t take your drugs, even if you miss a day, the outcome that the drug is supposed to provide gets impacted and that leads to all kinds of other complications.”
The health economics expert added: “We have to get people healthier in general so that they don’t need prescription drugs in the first place.”
He said that drugs procurement was among several areas of law that the health council hoped to see updated in the coming year.
Other areas included regulations about what information must be included in health insurance claims and legislation that related to artificial limbs.
Mark Selley, the Bermuda Healthcare Advocacy Group chairman, said he heard about proposals for the island to work collaboratively in the procurement of prescription drugs about two years ago from the former BHeC chief executive Tawanna Wedderburn.
He added: “I support it 100 per cent, I just need them to get on with it.”
Mr Selley said: “It would be a huge advantage to patients. Everybody will save.”
He explained: “People like me who need medication for life — it’s a huge benefit in saving.
“So many are taking shortcuts with their meds to save, instead of taking every day, they’re taking every other day and trying to stretch them out, not understanding the full ramifications of what that means.”
The then One Bermuda Alliance administration’s 2015 Throne Speech said that the Government would run a pilot programme to increase access to key drugs, in efforts to help people who could not afford the medication they need to treat chronic conditions.
The Throne Speech said: “The programme is based on joining the Pan American Health Organisation’s Strategic Fund to procure selected drugs for Government programmes at favourable rates.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said that the ministry had joined the fund, which was used by the Bermuda Hospitals Board to obtain medicines.
She added: “The Minister of Health is conscious of the difficulties many people in our community are having, as it relates to the high cost of healthcare, and the purchase of prescription drugs is one part of that high expense.
“For this reason, the health council is working on initiatives to make medications more affordable, with the ministry’s full support.”
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