Pharmaceutical Policy regarding Generic Drugs in Belgium
Kristien De Bruyn
Pressure to control pharmaceutical expenditure and price competition among pharmaceutical companies are fuelling the development of generic drug markets in EU countries. However, in Belgium, the market for generic drugs is underdeveloped compared with other countries. To promote the use of generic drugs, the government introduced a reference pricing (RP) scheme in 2001. The aim of this paper is to discuss Belgian pharmaceutical policy regarding generic drugs and to analyse how the Belgian drug market has evolved following initiation of the RP scheme. The market share held by generic drugs increased following implementation of the RP scheme. Focusing on volume, average market share (by semester) for generic drugs amounted to 2.05% of the total pharmaceutical market from January 1998 to June 2001, compared with 6.11% from July 2001 to December 2003. As new generic drugs are introduced, their market share tends to increase in the first couple of months, after which it levels off. Faced with increasing generic competition, some manufacturers have launched new variants of their original drug, thereby effectively extending the period of patent protection. Strategies consisting of price reductions in return for the abolition of prescribing conditions and the launch of new dosages or formulations appear to have been successful in maintaining the market share of original drugs. Nevertheless, the introduction of the RP scheme was associated with savings amounting to 1.8% of pharmaceutical expenditure by the third-party payer in 2001 and 2.1% in 2002. The findings of this paper indicate that the RP scheme has stimulated the Belgian generic drug market. However, existing policy has largely failed to take into account the role that physicians and pharmacists can play in stimulating generic drug use. Therefore, further development of the Belgian generic drug market seems to hinge on the creation of appropriate incentives for physicians to prescribe, and for pharmacists to dispense, generic drugs. With respect to incentives to advance generic drug use, EU countries have experimented with various forms of budget constraints for physicians, generic substitution by pharmacists and RP schemes, although more evidence is needed of their impact on consumption and prices of generic drugs, pharmaceutical expenditure and health outcomes.
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