Generic drugs ‘could save UAE healthcare providers Dh2.3bn’

If more generic drugs were used, as opposed to expensive, branded alternatives, an estimated 30 per cent could be saved on pharmacueticals, experts claim.

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DUBAI // Healthcare providers could save Dh2.3 billion by prescribing generic drugs that are just as effective as the branded pharmaceuticals, insurance professionals say.

They say prescribing mostly branded drugs can lead to abuse of the healthcare system, and that the money wasted could be better spent elsewhere.

The health insurance industry is calling for the country’s health regulators to encourage doctors to prescribe more generic drugs.

“There is fraud, abuse and waste, with each having a different impact on the healthcare system,” Nabila Taha, managing director of Taha Consultancy, said on Tuesday.

“If drugs are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and Ministry of Health, then they are safe to use. There is a misconception among patients and some doctors that generic drugs aren’t as effective.

“If we are saving money by using generic drugs, those savings could be used to increase health benefits elsewhere.”

At one hospital in Abu Dhabi, Anglo-Arabian Healthcare found that 95.6 per cent of all drugs prescribed to patients were branded, with just 4.4 per cent generic. Doctors in the US healthcare system prescribe 90 per cent generic drugs and only 10 per cent branded. The UK, Germany and France each prescribe 80 per cent generic drugs but their use is lower than 10 per cent at most UAE hospitals.

“If the US has 90 per cent use of generic drugs, so can the UAE,” said Ms Taha. “We already bring in branded, FDA-approved drugs so why can’t we bring in FDA-approved generic drugs?

“It is the same medication. It should at least be more available to use so people have the choice. Unless that happens, wasteful spending will continue.”

Part of the problem is that doctors in the UAE receive commissions from drug companies to prescribe branded products.

Fareed Lutfi, secretary general of Emirates Insurance Association and Gulf Insurance Federation, said the Ministry of Health and Prevention must lead the way towards change.

“There is a huge difference in price between generic drugs as opposed to branded drugs,” Mr Lutfi said.”

Total spending on pharmaceuticals last year was Dh7.7bn, Anglo-Arabian Healthcare said. Experts claim that if cheaper, generic drugs were used, 30 per cent of costs could be saved.

They were speaking in a panel discussion at the Mena Health Insurance Congress in Dubai on Tuesday.

According to the US FDA, generic drugs cost an average one-fifth of the branded drugs.

Waheedah Bahaiddin, a director at Sheikh Khalifa General Hospital in Umm Al Quwain, said not all patients trusted non-branded medication.

“I ask my doctor all the time about using generic drugs, such as inhalers, but he always prescribes the brand-name drugs,” Ms Bahaiddin said. “I worry about generic drugs, if they are made in some foreign countries where they could be cutting corners to save cost. Unless you can absolutely prove generic drugs are effective, you are putting your health at risk. The majority of patients feel that way.”

Branded drugs were more expensive because pharmaceutical companies had spent vast sums of money on research, drug development and clinical trials. Often, billions of dollars was spent on developing medication before it entered the prescriptions stage.

Drug patents last between five to 25 years. Once a patent expired, other drug companies were free to copy and produce the same drug for the prescription market, bringing the cost down. “It takes time to educate the public,” Ms Taha said. “It took other countries about 10 years to move to 90 per cent use of generic drugs, at least it is now being discussed here. It is a start.”