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New list eases burden on patients' finances

Wang Xiaodong
Updated: Dec 29,2020 10:54    China Daily

A total of 119 drugs have been added to the latest national essential drug list for reimbursement after considerable cuts in their prices, the National Healthcare Security Administration said on Dec 28.

The long expected move will greatly relieve the financial burden of patients with serious conditions ranging from cancer and rare diseases to COVID-19.

These drugs were among the 162 that were included in price negotiations between the administration and their producers earlier this year. Following the price negotiations, which took place in November and December, their prices dropped by nearly 51 percent on average, Xiong Xianjun, head of medical services supervision at the administration, said at a news conference.

Some antiviral drugs, including Arbidol and Ribavirin, which can be used for treating COVID-19, are among the drugs that were added to the latest list to further aid COVID-19 control and prevention in China, Xiong said. This means that all drugs that are recommended by the top health authority to treat COVID-19 have been included in the drug list and are therefore reimbursable for members of the basic medical insurance program.

Following the adjustment, the new list of reimbursable drugs, which takes effect on March 1, now covers 2,800 drugs.

China started pilot negotiations with pharmaceutical companies from home and abroad in 2015 to reduce the prices of expensive patented drugs and improve access to them for patients with serious diseases. Last year, 70 new drugs were placed on the list for reimbursement after months of talks between the authorities and pharmaceutical companies.

Before the negotiations, many patented drugs for serious diseases, such as cancer, were sold on the Chinese mainland at much higher prices, and were not included on the country's essential drug list for reimbursement.

Xu Wei, an official from Zhejiang Provincial Healthcare Security Administration, who took part in the price negotiations this year, said compared with previous years, a wider range of drugs treating different diseases were selected for the negotiations and included on the list. Patients with various chronic diseases will eventually benefit from this.

"We also gave priority to new drugs in the whole process to encourage innovation by pharmaceutical companies, so some drugs have been included in the list right after they became available on the market," he said.

Some of the newly added drugs are new drugs that did not enter the market until a few months ago. Dupixent, for example, an innovative drug developed by pharmaceutical company Sanofi to treat atopic dermatitis, a skin disease, was included on the list within five months of market approval by China's top drug regulator.

Shi Yuankai, vice-president of the Cancer Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said in recent years a number of expensive cancer drugs have been included in the national essential drug list after price negotiations, which has greatly improved drug accessibility for cancer patients.

"Many of the cancer drugs in the list are newly developed drugs that are effective and have fewer side effects for patients, and they can treat most kinds of cancer that occur in major organs," he said.

Gong Bo, a health official from Shanghai, said pharmaceutical companies taking part in the price negotiations can get benefits such as bulk sales after their drugs are included on the list, despite the cut in prices.

"With more than 1.3 billion members of the basic medical insurance program, China has the world's largest market for pharmaceutical products," he said.