Costs of prescription drugs sky rocket with new health regulation

Foto: Jana Sustova

With the New Year thousands of Czechs found themselves having to dig deeper into their pockets. Under a new health ministry regulation, they have to pay up to twenty times more for many prescription drugs, ranging from blood pressure regulators to anti-depressants. In order to cover a wider range of drugs, health insurance companies have reduced their subsidies on others, forcing Czechs dependent on them either to pay more or settle for less.

Jill Mutua is a pharmacist in Prague:

"All the medicine has been classified into different groups. They are called ATC classifications and concern the indication for the drug and the chemical properties. Among the groups you find anti-histamines, anti-hypertensives, and others. There are now some 300 groups and there is one drug in each group that is fully covered by the health insurance companies. That may sound very nice and simple but the problem is that only some people can take that drug. They may have reactions to it because all of them have side effects. So, they have to find another drug from the same group, which may not be covered by their insurance company."

And as many pharmacies have reported, the proportion of those patients who are taking the more expensive drugs on doctor's recommendations is quite high. But the Health Ministry points out that this group of patients has been taken into consideration. Ministry spokeswoman Vera Carna:

"In cases where people are unable to get a cheaper drug because they are allergic to it or are taking other medication that would pose a health risk, their doctor can arrange for them to get what they need at the original price."

So that's good news for some but pharmacist Jill Mutua points out that the number of patients who get an exception is very low and those who will have to settle for the cheaper drug will be settling for a lower quality medication:

"It is not that simple. The process of deciding whether drugs, which are not covered are going to be covered or which are covered less are going to be covered more is done on the insurance company level. They have a special who works there and he is the one who revises the applications. He looks at the special cases and can give the green light. But it's not that simple. It takes a month and he only makes exceptions in extreme cases when patients need a particular drug and cannot have any other."