Netherlands, Belgium team up to lower drug prices

Health Minister Edith Schippers during Prinsjesdag, 2014 (photo: Rijksoverheid/Bas Arps). (Health Minister Edith Schippers during Prinsjesdag, 2014 (photo: Rijksoverheid/Bas Arps))

Minister Edith Schippers of Public Health and her Belgian counterpart Maggie de Block are teaming up in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies on the prices of expensive drugs. This agreement was made on Monday during a European Council of Health Ministers in Riga.

The aim for this collaboration is to get drug prices down in the interest of the patient. Expensive drugs often don't have competition when being introduced to the market, especially the so-called orphan drugs. These drugs are intended for rare diseases that often affect less than 1 in 100 thousand people. As these diseases affect very few patients in each individual Member State, companies can only sell very few doses of an orphan drug and the price is often very high.

Recently the Netherlands and Belgium faced a particularly high price for a hepatitis C drug. Both countries negotiated this price separately and managed to come away with a lower price. Schippers and De Block are convinced that a joint effort will yield even better results. "If we work together, we represent more patients and we can more easily negotiate a lower price without sacrificing quality."

The two countries will launch a test run on this initiative next year, with both health ministers evaluating the results of the project afterwards. Other countries also showed interest in the initiative in Riga. Schippers and De Block hope that other countries will join the initiative after a successful test run.