Malta is working with Italy and 8 other European countries to lay the groundwork for a formal European Union framework in which members could voluntarily share information about medicines prices, in order to advance more coherent pricing policies in regional markets, Health Minister Chris Fearne has said.
The 10 countries, which have come together to form what is being term as the “Valletta Group” are among the first worldwide to band together on practical steps to implement the aims of the landmark World Health Assembly resolution approved in May, calling for greater price transparency in medicines markets.
Fearne said that he expects Croatia – which is one of the ten aforementioned countries – to put the issue on the agenda of the European Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council [EPSCO] sometime next year, after it assumes the EU presidency. Fearne delivered a keynote address at the opening session of the European Health Forum, which is focusing on new policies and technologies which can positively transform health systems
Fearne told Health Policy Watch that the first step for the Valletta group would likely be an agreement to confidentially share information on the prices that they pay for medicines and other health products, so as to begin building trust towards collective negotiations on regional prices for bulk purchases.
Malta played host to a ministerial meeting of between the countries in the group in July, which mandated a group of technical experts to come back to the ministers with a firm proposal for moving ahead on a collaborative framework for price information-sharing, which could also be advanced before the European Health Council.
The group of ten countries includes Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Slovenia, and Romania, along with Malta, Croatia and Italy.
Fearne told Health Policy Watch that a European legal framework is needed to empower countries to buck the non-disclosure agreements that are the standard of practice now, and which critics say have led to large disparities in prices paid for the same drug in neighbouring European countries.
“One country is paying €15,000 and another country can’t pay €100,000. Why can’t we all buy it at 15 000? The company is still making money,” he said, adding that he was referring to a specific drug that Malta procures, but he could not cite the name due to the NDAs that are currently in place.
“The pharmaceutical companies, when they enter into agreements for procuring medicine, specifically state that you are not at liberty to publicize the price,” he added. “They usually release the medicines first in countries where there is a high GDP, and so when they [publicly] reference the price, they are referencing the high end of the European market.”
The Valletta Group ministers are due to meet soon again in Rome, to consider the proposals of the technical group, and see if they can form a unified position to submit to the Health Council [EPSCO].
Fearne said that in his opinion, “the next step is to agree between us to share prices between us confidentially, not publicly. That will enable us to start trusting each other, when we come together to negotiate jointly. So in our case, instead of having a market of half a million, the Valletta Group is made up of 163 million; if we negotiate collectively then we have a stronger bargaining power.
”But because we have always been told that we get the best prices, amongst us there are people who don’t believe that negotiating jointly is going to be beneficial. The only way to break this is to make prices known, and then we will realise the inevitable truth that most of us are paying very high prices. Breaking this secrecy will allow member states to build trust and then will be able to negotiate jointly.”