25 May 2011

Australians warn of higher medicine prices

7:42 pm on 25 May 2011

New Zealanders are being warned of potentially higher prices for medicines if drug-buying agency Pharmac becomes subject to a free trade deal with the United States.

Twenty-eight US senators have written to President Barack Obama calling for a crackdown in the TransPacific Partnership trade talks on drug-buying bodies, warning of dangers to American business interests from such a deal.

The senators believe American pharmaceutical companies will gain little from the nine-country deal, which includes the US and New Zealand, if national drug-buying agencies' current practices are maintained.

While the letter does not name Pharmac, trade sources say it is a clear reference to the New Zealand agency, which is on track to deliver savings for the health system in the country of $1 billion this year.

Australian legal and medicines policy experts on Wednesday warned that higher prices may result.

A law professor at the Australian National University, Peter Drahos says some medicines have risen in price in Australia since a free trade deal with the United States in 2005 altered rules governing the buying of medicines.

A medicines policy expert at Melbourne's LaTrobe University says public health should not be part of bargaining, and New Zealanders should campaign to keep Pharmac out of talks for the TransPacific Free Trade Agreement.

However, Health Minister Tony Ryall says the Government is not going to dismantle Pharmac or undermine the processes that have made it most effective.

Doctors say Pharmac has worked well for New Zealanders and should continue.

Medical Association chairman Paul Ockelford says Pharmac has had its critics, but it has given New Zealanders access to a wide range of medicines for the available funding.