The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) is moving to punish pharmaceuticals which promote their products through rebates, i.e., kickbacks, with fines, instead of slashing their insurance benefits, triggering strong resistance from civic groups. “It is little different from allowing a second or third Glivec of Novartis Korea 한국노바티스,” they say.
The ministry released its revised guidelines Monday concerning “details on suspending or excluding insurance coverage against and imposing penalties on rebate-giving medicines.”
The revised guideline specified drugs for which punishment can be replaced to fines instead of limiting insurance coverage by the health-welfare minister’s judgment as having special reasons. They are the drugs that don’t have alternative medicines, have trouble in prescribing, supplying, and distributing alternative medicines, have serious effects on patients’ health because of changed drugs, and those that can expect virtually no effects from the suspension of insurance coverage.
Civic groups, such as the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ) 경실련 and Health Right Network건강세상네트워크(HRN) Tuesday demanded the ministry to withdraw the revision, describing it as a “guideline to protect pharmaceutical companies that give kickbacks.”
“The revision is against the principle of strongly punishing drugmakers who offer kickbacks to root out the practice,” they said. “The executive branch is destroying legislative results based on social consensus.”
The revision will allow regulators to repeat replacing the suspension of insurance benefits with fines, the NGOs said.
“It would also result in a situation in which regulators cannot punish any drugmakers if patients who take their products take issue with it,” the groups said. “The restrictions on insurance coverage will become little more than a name. The government will be ignoring social and legal orders to punish rebating practices while providing indulgence to drugmakers related to bribing acts.”
They also argued the revision would mitigate penalties on corrupt drugmakers.
“The Moon Jae-in administration’s 100 national tasks and the ‘Moon-care’ are also lacking in contents related to improving drug pricing system,” they said. “The first step since the government announced the ‘Moon-care’ is to ease the punishment of bribing drugmakers.”
The civic groups said President Moon’s plan to make a “country that frees its people from concerns about hospital bills” must have contents related to improving drug pricing system that removes bubbles from drug prices and induces sound competition through strengthening product quality.
“We urge the ministry to withdraw the guideline immediately and re-modify it through social consensus,” they said. “If it sticks to the revision, we will set about right away to amend the mother law to eradicate kickbacks from the pharmaceutical sector, in cooperation with the National Assembly.”
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