Generic drug prices and policy in Australia: room for improvement? a comparative analysis with England

Sarah J Mansfield
Australian Health Review: a Publication of the Australian Hospital Association 2014, 38 (1): 6-15

OBJECTIVE: To assess the degree to which reimbursement prices in Australia and England differ for a range of generic drugs, and to analyse the supply- and demand-side factors that may contribute to these differences.

METHODS: Australian and English reimbursement prices were compared for a range of generic drugs using pricing information obtained from government websites. Next, a literature review was conducted to identify supply- and demand-side factors that could affect generic prices in Australia and England. Various search topics were identified addressing potential supply-side (e.g. market approval, intellectual property protection of patented drugs, generic pricing policy, market size, generic supply chain and discounting practices) and demand-side (consumers, prescribers and pharmacists) factors. Related terms were searched in academic databases, official government websites, national statistical databases and internet search engines.

RESULTS: Analysis of drug reimbursement prices for 15 generic molecules (representing 45 different drug presentations) demonstrated that Australian prices were on average over 7-fold higher than in England. Significant supply-side differences included aspects of pricing policy, the relative size of the generics markets and the use of clawback policies. Major differences in demand-side policies related to generic prescribing, pharmacist substitution and consumer incentives.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite recent reforms, the Australian Government continues to pay higher prices than its English counterpart for many generic medications. The results suggest that particular policy areas may benefit from review in Australia, including the length of the price-setting process, the frequency of subsequent price adjustments, the extent of price competition between originators and generics, medical professionals' knowledge about generic medicines and incentives for generic prescribing. WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THE TOPIC? Prices of generic drugs have been the subject of much scrutiny over recent years. From 2005 to 2010 the Australian Government responded to observations that Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prices for many generics were higher than in numerous comparable countries by instituting several reforms aimed at reducing the prices of generics. Despite this, several studies have demonstrated that prices for generic statins (one class of cholesterol-lowering drug) are higher in Australia compared with England and many other developed countries, and prices of numerous other generics remain higher than in the USA and New Zealand. Recently there has been increasing interest in why these differences exist. WHAT DOES THIS PAPER ADD? By including a much larger range of commonly used and costly generic drugs, this paper builds significantly on the limited previous investigations of generic drug prices in Australia and England. Additionally, this is the first comprehensive investigation of multiple supply- and, in particular, demand-side factors that may explain any price differences between these countries. WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTITIONERS? Practitioners may contribute to the higher prices of generic medications in Australia compared with England through relatively low rates of generic prescribing. There are also significant implications for health policy makers, as this paper demonstrates that if Australia achieved the same prices as England for many generic drugs there could be substantial savings for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

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