Can cheaper drugs help Finland hire more nurses?
Finland’s public healthcare system is seeking to expand its use of generic drugs to create cost savings.
Most Finns do not pay full price for their medicines. The Kela agency ceiling for reimbursable drugs is around 600 euros per year. That means taxpayers foot the bill for the rest, which is why expiring drug patents make a huge difference to government spending on drugs.
In April, the price of the cancer drug lenalidomide fell from 5,700 euros a pack to 150 euros, following the expiration of the patent of the American manufacturer of the drug which it marketed under the name Revlimid.
Drug patents are generally valid for 20 years after invention.
Generic alternatives were immediately available in Kela’s reference pricing system, which favors the cheapest alternatives. The system reimburses patients based on the cheapest drugs available.
“In euro terms, the price reduction was exceptionally large,” said Terhi Kurkosenior researcher at Kela.
The agency calculated that generic alternatives to lenalidomide alone could save Finland up to €40 million a year.
Cheap drugs = more nurses?
Kurko said Finland could potentially save tens of millions more each year if biosimilar drugs were more widely used. Biosimilars work like branded biologics that treat cancer using yeast, bacteria, or animal cells.
That said, Finland is now eyeing biosimilar medicines for their cost-saving potential. Prime Minister Sanna MarinThe (SDP) government plans to use the money saved on drugs to hire additional health staff to meet tighter nursing quotas.
“Finland is far behind other Nordic countries when it comes to outpatient use of biosimilars,” said Heikki Botha of the Finnish Generic Medicine Association.
He said it was not viable for society to pay for branded drugs when cheaper alternatives were available.
“Half of patients with rheumatism, for example, are using a brand name drug when a cheaper biosimilar is available. If everyone switched to a more affordable biosimilar alternative, the savings would be €17 million per year,” he explained.
Last month, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health set up a task force to investigate the expansion of the use of biosimilar medicines.
While Finland can expect savings in the treatment of certain diseases as patents expire, the country continues to spend more money on drugs each year. Costs increase as new therapies become available for rare diseases.