“For patients to benefit from medical innovation, policymakers need objective information to formulate health policies.”
Dr Josep Figueras, Director of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, WHO European Centre on Health Policy
The research-based pharmaceutical industry is driven to produce innovative medicines that will benefit patients. Ensuring equitable patient access to medicines is a major industry concern – the innovative pharmaceutical only exists, after all, because of the patients it aims to help. We believe that inequalities in medicines access need to be addressed as a major priority for the European Union.
Unequal access to medicines is not a new phenomenon. A 2009 report on the sales of innovative products from 2005 – 2009 within the EU, showed significant differences in the sales of innovative products between countries. Generally speaking, the poorer the country, the worse the access to innovative medicines it has.
Difficult economic times exacerbate the problem. With health representing the second largest public expenditure in OECD countries, health systems are feeling pressure. The OECD has shown how the growth in healthcare spending collapsed in 2010 as a result of the crisis. Since then further efforts have been made to rein in spending, which some commentators have identified as a driver for worse health outcomes.  The importance of ensuring patient access to proper healthcare in the present cannot be stressed enough. It’s also important to think of the future, however: The industry needs to maintain its ability to invest in medicines that will benefit patients in the future.
One idea that might improve the situation would be to encourage more differential pricing of medicines in Europe. Differential pricing would mean that pharmaceutical companies are able to charge prices that better reflect the economic situation of different countries. This is currently discouraged by international price referencing practices whereby national authorities determine the amount to which they will reimburse a drug by looking at what other countries are paying – using a basket of other countries as a benchmark to set drug prices in their own country.
International price referencing can be especially problematic in tough economic times. The pharmaceutical industry is often called on to assist poorer countries with cost savings by cutting prices: Recognising the need to support patient access to medicines, the industry has accommodated weaker economies accordingly. However, if those exceptionally low prices are automatically copied by richer economies then the whole business model is challenged. The industry needs to be able to help out where it’s necessary, without fear that revenues in richer economies will collapse in a way that undermines its ability to invest in the medicines of the future.
EFPIA WAIT Report shows that, depending on the patients' country of residence, doctors would be able to prescribe between 39% and 86% of the new medicines with a valid EU marketing authorisation granted between 1 January 2007 and 31 December 2009. For those new medicines that doctors can prescribe under the national healthcare provisions, the average time elapsed between the date of EU market authorisation and the "accessibility" date in 14 European countries varies from 88 to 392 days.