Pharmac 'safe' from free trade discussions

The pharmaceutical industry says it has no intention of using the Trans-Pacific Partnership to get rid of Pharmac.

The pharmaceutical industry says it has no intention of using the Trans-Pacific Partnership to get rid of New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency (Pharmac).

“Improving the system is not about threatening its existence, but rather about putting health outcomes above hype and hyperbole,” Medicines NZ chair Heather Roy told delegates at TPP negotiations under way in Dallas.

The talks involve nine Asia-Pacific countries, including New Zealand and the United States. Japan, Canada and Mexico have formally asked to join.

Mrs Roy says improved access to innovative medicines will benefit New Zealand patients and a free trade agreement will give the economy a “much-needed boost”.

The projected benefits of the TPP are estimated at $US1.7 billion to New Zealand’s GDP by 2025.

While the pharmaceutical industry says it does not intend to “get rid of” the Crown’s medicine funding agency, health spending needs to be addressed.

“New Zealanders could have access to better and newer medicines if the system was streamlined and the broader questions relating to health policy addressed.

"I don’t accept better access to medicines would result in a blow-out of the health budget,” Mrs Roy says.

Part of this streamlining would more transparency on what Pharmac bases its decisions when buying medication.

The process has always been closed and pharmaceutical producers do not get to speak directly to the clinical committee about their products.

Such decision criteria, Mrs Roy says, should be applied transparently and consistently, and pharmaceutical companies should have an opportunity to provide input.

There is no timeframe for Pharmac approval of funding applications and many sit undecided for long periods.

The average delay between Medsafe approval and Pharmac listing on average 3.5 years and in some cases, can be up to eight years.

“This measurement of delay does not take into account those products that never receive funding, of which there are many.” 

Mrs Roy says that in recent times, Pharmac has been more open and willing to engage with Medicines NZ.

Health minister Tony Ryall has also encouraged and supported a "much more consultaive and constructive approach", she says.

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