Through their national reimbursement schemes, EU member states are the main purchasers of medicines in their domestic markets. They naturally seek to control drug prices but the extent of this control varies widely. Countries with higher prices, such as the UK and Germany, rely more on market forces to set prices. Spain, on the other hand, closely regulates and controls prices. Ireland's pricing policy is somewhere in the middle of the European league as, with its relatively small market, it must seek to balance value for money in State drug spending with reliability and continuity of supply for essential products.
Price comparison in different markets is difficult. Patent protection is well established in Ireland, as elsewhere, and allows originator companies exclusive rights to the market for ten years for new medicines. In Spain, until 1992 there was no intellectual property protection for medicines and no patent protection for new products. This has kept prices down but may change with patent and intellectual property exclusivity, although the long lead-in time for product development and patenting will inevitably delay this. In addition, some products that are prescription-only in Ireland are available without prescription in Spain. While the removal of prescription status for certain products may produce lower prices in Ireland, these products would no longer be reimbursed by the State.
My Department is currently examining a range of policy options with regard to pharmaceutical expenditure, including increased use of generic medicines, pricing and reimbursement structures for the community drug schemes, and pharm-acoeconomic assessment of reimbursable medicines.