By Annette Chrysostomou
Pharmaceutical companies have disagreed with a call by MP Irene Charalambidou that a proposed bill to change the composition of the committee for setting the prices of medical drugs (EETF) has been abandoned without justification.
“Would the minister inform us, when he will resubmit this very important bill, which would change the composition of the EETF and will remedy the conflict of interest as recorded in the report by the LSE and the Auditor General, since nobody at this stage can ensure that the Cypriot citizen is protected from the high pricing of medicines?” Charalambidou asked in a statement on Monday.
Representatives from pharmaceutical companies sit on the board, leading to the suggestion they could have a conflict of interest over prices. “We are there to provide expertise and inside information on how pharmaceutical companies work,” president of the Cyprus association of pharmaceutical companies Avgoustinos Potamitis told the Cyprus Mail, adding that his members cannot affect drug prices because they are in a minority on the committee.
The initial bill was approved by the Council of ministers in September. It was intended to change the composition of the EETF because it was deemed that its present composition results in a conflict of interest.
A research paper by the London School of Economics (LSE) showed it was in the interests of most of the committee members to keep medicine prices high.
It proposed the ministry of health set up a committee of technocrats, academics and institutional entities with qualifications in pharmacy, medicine, health economics and law instead.
“It is necessary to exclude individuals with conflicts of interest,” the LSE said, noting that in other EU countries the composition of the respective committees ensures procedures are objective and transparent “so that any decision taken does not serve private interests.”
The Auditor General consequently recommended the amendment of the law so that conflicts of interests could be dealt with. As part of the amendment, interested parties (importers, manufacturers, pharmacists) would be invited to EETF meetings during which topics concerning them are examined and could outline their views, but would not participate in decision-making.
Despite the recommendations, the health ministry backed down, withdrawing the bill in December, leading to MP Charalambidou’s reaction.
Potamitis said the private sector is in the minority on the board and he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.
“In the end, it comes down to the vote. There is no way we can have the upper hand. There are nine members in total on the committee, of which only three are stakeholders from the private sector and six are appointed by the government. How can three people outvote six? It’s simple mathematics.
“We feel we should be there and vote as it is in the drug companies’ hand to determine the prices, and we have the inside information to ensure that good quality drugs are available in abundance in Cyprus,” he added.