New data reveal HSE has spent over €1.2 billion on biologics since 2016, despite the availability of more affordable medicines

New data provided by the HSE has revealed that since 2016 it has spent more than €1.2 billion on reimbursing biologic medicines, but just over €2.2 million on biosimilar medicines.
Annually, the HSE now reimburses biologics to the value of almost €450 million and €1 million on biosimilar medicines.

Data provided by the HSE on 26 March in response to a parliamentary question by Deputy John Brassil TD, Fianna Fail Junior Spokesperson on Primary Care and Community Health Services (see below) revealed the HSE spent the following amounts on biologic and biosimilar medicines over the last three years:

  • In 2016, €423 million was spent on biologics, with €445,000 on biosimilars
  • In 2017, €435 million was spent on biologics, with €635,000 on biosimilars
  • In 2018*, €425 million was spent on biologics, with €1.2 million on biosimilars.

In a statement Medicines for Ireland, the representative body for generics, biosimilars and value-added medicines, said: “The failure to actively promote the use of biosimilars across the healthcare system has been widely acknowledged by several stakeholders in recent years, with others such as the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the National Centre forPharmacoeconomics supporting the increased use of biosimilars.

“In February 2017, Minister for Health Simon Harris announced the development of a National Biosimilar Strategy to drive increased uptake of biosimilars as an alternative to more expensive biologics. To date no strategy has been published.

“Other EU states that have proactively promoted the use of biosimilars have achieved significant savings and reductions in their medicine spend.

“In 2018, the UK’s NHS saved over £300 million on two medications alone by switching from biologics to biosimilars. In 2019, the NHS is projecting a further saving of £200 million through a similar switching process. In many other EU states, the rate of biosimilar usage is as high as 90% for the treatment of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.”
Owen McKeon, Chairperson of Medicines for Ireland, the representative body for generics, biosimilars and value-added medicines, said: “The figures speak for themselves. The fact that €1.2 billion has been spent on biologics versus €2.2 million on biosimilars demonstrates the Irish healthcare system’s near total failure to embrace more affordable biosimilar medicines. It matters hugely because, ultimately, this failure restricts patients’ access to life-enhancing medicines and treatments.

“Biosimilar usage across the EU is now standard practice, so it is difficult to understand the reticence in the Irish healthcare to follow suit.

“There are direct consequences for not embracing change. For example, in recent months, much has been made of the fact that the HSE has already spent all its ‘new medicines’ budget. Yet a more joined-up approach, by increasing our use of biosimilars, could deliver savings to fund such new medicines.

“Equally, biosimilar manufacturers, as is already happening, will increasingly not launch their products on the Irish market because of the lack of a viable, competitive market here.

“The Minister for Health and his Department must now step up and provide the leadership needed to drive the switch to more affordable medicines, otherwise patients will continue to be the losers.”

  • Data by HSE for 2018 is based on 11 months to end November 2018.

** The data provided by the HSE captures items dispensed under the HSE’s four community drug schemes and does not capture medicines paid for privately by patients or drugs administered by hospitals.

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