Choose the Optimally Priced Medicine at the Pharmacy!

The Estonian Health Insurance Fund launched the information campaign “The difference is in the price of the medicine” this week. The campaign aims to increase the awareness of the Estonian population regarding the use of prescription medicines and to draw attention to the opportunity of spending less on medicines by choosing the cheapest one from among the medicinal products containing the same active substance.

In 2009, the Health Insurance Fund spent a total of 1.4 billion kroons on compensations for prescription medicines listed among the medicines distributed at a discount. The patients themselves contributed by ca 800 million kroons, whereas this amount could be significantly reduced.

“When having a closer look at the formation of the user charge, we noticed that people often prefer more expensive medicinal products at pharmacies. This is why expenses are higher than necessary,” said Mari Mathiesen, Member of the Management Board of the Health Insurance Fund. “The user charge could be significantly reduced if people knew about cheaper alternatives among medicinal products with the same active substance and dared to ask for them at the pharmacy,” she added.

“In Estonia, people frequently opt for reference medicinal products which are often significantly more expensive than generic medicinal products. There is a widespread erroneous opinion that the cheaper generic medicine is not equivalent to the reference product,” remarked Kristin Raudsepp, Director General of the State Agency of Medicines Kristin Raudsepp. “The effect, safety and quality of a generic medicine are equal to those of the reference product, as both are tested against the same quality standards. It is the active substance that helps the patient, not the trademark on the package,” she stated.

Ruth Kalda, Chairman of the Estonian Union of Family Physicians stressed that physicians should discuss, among other topics, the treatment cost with the patient in more detail in order to prevent the risk of discontinued treatment due to financial reasons. “The treatment process should involve mutual communication between the physician and the patient, including the choice of medical preparation. We certainly recommend that patients should let their physicians know if there is a risk that the prescribed medicine cannot be purchased for financial reasons. I also call all physicians to provide patients with more information and issue active substance-based prescriptions,” Kalda encouraged.

Marelle Erlenheim, Secretary General at the Ministry of Social Affairs also mentioned the role of pharmacists in the choice of a cheaper medicinal product: “Pharmacies are required to sell and offer to the patient the medicine that is the cheapest for among similar suitable medicinal products. The patient may refuse but the information and the cheapest medicinal product itself shall be available at the pharmacy.”

Increased awareness of people leads to better treatment results. If medicines are used according to the physicians' instructions and in a consistent manner, without discontinuing treatments due to financial problems, it helps prevent exacerbation of chronic diseases, reduce hospitalization and avoid serious complications. The whole society benefits from healthier people.