Scholarly article on topic 'Cyprus in crisis: Recent changes in the pharmaceutical market and options for further reforms without sacrificing access to or quality of treatment'

Cyprus in crisis: Recent changes in the pharmaceutical market and options for further reforms without sacrificing access to or quality of treatment Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Panagiotis Petrou, Sotiris Vandoros

Abstract The pharmaceutical market in Cyprus has been characterised by high volume and a steep increase in per-capita expenditure over the past decade. Most importantly, the market is fragmented due to the absence of universal health insurance, and the uninsured have to rely exclusively on the private market. The objective of this study is to examine the weaknesses of the Cypriot pharmaceutical market before the financial crisis; to discuss the measures recently introduced after recommendations by the Troika; and to propose interventions that can improve access to pharmaceuticals and efficiency without compromising health outcomes. Apart from the introduction of new pharmaceutical policies, we also recommend the swift implementation of universal health insurance.

Academic research paper on topic "Cyprus in crisis: Recent changes in the pharmaceutical market and options for further reforms without sacrificing access to or quality of treatment"

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Cyprus in crisis: Recent changes in the pharmaceutical market and options for further reforms without sacrificing access to or quality of treatment^

Panagiotis Petroua b *, Sotiris Vandorosc

a Open University of Cyprus, Healthcare Management Programme, PO Box 12794,2252, Latsia, Cyprus b Health Insurance Organization, 17-19 Klimentos Street, 1061 Nicosia, Cyprus

c King's College London, Department of Management, Franklin-Wilkins Building, 150 Stamford Street, London SE1 9NH, United Kingdom



Article history:

Received 25 November 2013 Received in revised form 26 January 2015 Accepted 6 March 2015


Pharmaceutical policy



The pharmaceutical market in Cyprus has been characterised by high volume and a steep increase in per-capita expenditure over the past decade. Most importantly, the market is fragmented due to the absence of universal health insurance, and the uninsured have to rely exclusively on the private market. The objective of this study is to examine the weaknesses of the Cypriot pharmaceutical market before the financial crisis; to discuss the measures recently introduced after recommendations by the Troika; and to propose interventions that can improve access to pharmaceuticals and efficiency without compromising health outcomes. Apart from the introduction of new pharmaceutical policies, we also recommend the swift implementation of universal health insurance.

© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

1. Introduction

In 2013 Cyprus became the fourth Euro zone country (after Greece, Ireland and Portugal) to resort to IMF, EC and ECB (the so-called Troika) funding as a result of the financial crisis. As in other countries that were bailed-out, the Troika recommended the implementation of measures in (among others) the pharmaceutical market in order to cut costs.

What makes the pharmaceutical market in Cyprus unique in the EU context is that, in contrast to other member states, there is no universal health insurance scheme. While employees in the public sector, people with an annual income below a certain threshold and patients

* Open Access for this article is made possible by a collaboration between Health Policy and The European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +00357 99587597. E-mail address: (P. Petrou).

suffering from certain chronic diseases are covered by public health insurance (accounting for 85% of the population [1]), anyone who does not fall within these groups has to rely on the private sector for insurance and treatment. Cyprus is also the only EU country where out-of-pocket expenditure is higher than public health expenditure (Fig. 1) [2]. As demonstrated in Fig. 1, there has been a steep increase in total pharmaceutical expenditure, from 128 million Euros in 2006 to 217 million Euros in 2011 [3].

While studies normally focus on public sector health insurance in EU countries, it is important to include the private health sector in Cyprus in the discussion, because part of the population relies exclusively on this as they do not qualify for public health insurance. In addition, patients who are covered by public health insurance often have to resort to the private market and pay for treatment out-of-pocket, as a result of unsatisfactory waiting times [4].

Regardless ofthe macroeconomic environment, governments should always seek to increase efficiency and reduce waste in health markets, in order to increase access to care

0168-8510/© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd. This is an open access article underthe CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

99 103 112

81 87 97

61 67 73 83 90 100 103 105

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Public sector Private sector Fig. 1. Pharmaceutical Sales in Cyprus, by sector (private or public) in million Euros. Source: Ministry of Health of Cyprus, unpublished data

without sacrificing outcomes. This means that either the same level of treatment can be achieved at a lower cost (thus releasing funds that can be used elsewhere in healthcare), or additional services can be provided at the same cost. Whether in crisis or not, reforms towards better and more efficient healthcare should be a constant policy goal. Especially in a country like Cyprus without universal health insurance, reducing waste can help fund the expansion of health insurance to the entire population. In this context, a country in crisis can implement measures that increase efficiency, rather than simply resorting to blunt cuts, as the latter can be a threat to public health [5-7].

Given the interest in reforms in bailout countries, we follow the example of a recent publication by Vandoros and Stargardt [8] who studied the reforms in the Greek pharmaceutical market during the financial crisis. The objective of this paper is to present the Cypriot pharmaceutical market and its weaknesses prior to the crisis; to discuss the measures that were implemented in Cyprus as a result of the financial crisis; and to propose measures to help achieve the goal of higher efficiency without sacrificing quality of and access to healthcare. In contrast to the changes imposed by the Troika (which focused on cost-containment), we recommend reforms in the Cypriot market that will reduce waste, increase access to care and allocate resources in a way that would increase social welfare, which should be implemented regardless of the macroeconomic situation.

2. The Cypriot pharmaceutical market before the crisis

The structure of the Cypriot pharmaceutical market differs significantly compared to other EU countries, and is in a sense unique with regards to insurance coverage, pricing and procurement of medicines. This originates not only from the fact that public health insurance is not universal, but also that both in-patient and out-patient drugs in

the public segment of the market are supplied exclusively via tenders.

Patients covered by public health insurance can receive pharmaceuticals for free from any public pharmacy, when presenting a prescription from a public sector physician. Prior to the crisis there were no volume-control measures in place, resulting in overprescribing and overconsumption of drugs, as in the case of antibiotics [9]. 39% of all prescriptions included more than five products [10], while patients could also receive OTC drugs and vitamins for free from the public sector. Apart from an unnecessary burden on the health budget, drug overconsumption has been associated with adverse drug reactions and increased risk of hospitalisation [11]. The complete absence of demand-side measures exacerbated this phenomenon: Intergraded prescribing guidelines for physicians were limited, and there were no physician budgets nor any prescribing monitoring; in addition there were no incentives for rational prescribing, or user charges as in other EU countries [12].

While tenders are popular for the procurement of medicines in most hospital markets in the EU, these are only used for a limited number of products in few outpatient markets, such as the Netherlands and Germany. In Cyprus, however, the procurement of all drugs in outpatient and hospital markets for the public system is done via tenders, whereas the bidder offering the lowest price wins the right to supply the entire market for two years (a form of a reverse auction) [13]. In general, when there is no monopoly power at the molecule or therapeutic level, tendering leads to lower prices than reference pricing or price caps, and shifts in market shares [14,15], meaning that for such markets in the public sector, the Cypriot authorities have taken advantage of all possibilities for price reductions. However, this is not always the case, as some drugs are on patent, which may lead the government to purchase drugs at the therapeutic class level, whereas one drug per class is purchased. If the product is the only drug in a therapeutic class, meaning that there are no close substitutes, the provider has additional market power, and the tender

will not lead to any significant price cuts, due to monopoly power. In any case, public expenditure on pharmaceuticals in Cyprus appears to be mainly volume rather than price-driven [9,16].

Prices for in-patent drugs in the private sector are determined based on an international reference pricing system, similar to what holds in all other EU markets, with the exception of Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the UK. The price is determined as the average of available prices in Austria, Sweden, France and Greece, plus 3% to cover importing costs, on top of which a 37% pharmacist mark-up applies. As price revisions occur at longer intervals, compared to other EU countries [17], private sector prices in Cyprus remain relatively high.

For off-patent markets in the private sector, generic drugs are 20% cheaper than the originator price. This directly translates to relatively high prices, given that in other EU countries reference prices push generic prices down [18,19], while price caps limit prices directly to a lower fraction of the originator price than 80% (e.g. 50% in France; 52% in Austria [20]).

3. Policy changes recommended by the Troika

The Troika recommended the development of clinical guidelines as an important tool for rational prescribing [21,22]. As a result, guidelines for upper respiratory infection, gastroenterology, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, hypertension, diabetes, depression, and hypercholes-terolemia have been delivered and ten more are currently being developed. The implementation of guidelines is in accordance with Troika's recommendation to render GPs as gatekeepers (thus restricting direct access of patients to specialists), as is the case in the English NHS [23].

There was little room for further price reductions in the public sector as a result of tendering, at least for products with substitutes. Consequently, the Troika focused on the implementation of other policies that can enhance the efficiency of the system through the implementation of cost effectiveness analysis for the 10 most costly products and some conditions with expensive treatments (although this issue had already been partly explored by the MoH due to an official report of General Audit of Cyprus [24]). While cost effectiveness analysis is a prerequisite in assessment of pharmaceuticals for inclusion in the formulary in many EU countries [25], HTA (whose value is well documented [26,27]) was only recently introduced in Cyprus. In this context, in mid 2013 a technical committee was formed with the objective to set up terms of reference for conducting HTA in Cyprus. Currently, four rapid HTA reviews are being developed.

As a way to address volume, the Troika requested the introduction of user charges as a demand side control measure in the public sector. A 0.50-Euro co-payment fee per prescription was implemented to tackle moral hazard and overprescribing. User charges are not a preferred option during economic downturns because they provide barriers to healthcare. However, the 0.5-Euro prescription fee is low, and in any case much lower than other EU countries. Given the low cost, this co-payment works more as a way to address moral hazard, rather than a way to actually

finance the health budget. It is worth noting that a number of patient categories are already exempt from co-payments [28], and this exemption should be expanded furtherto vulnerable socio-economic groups, as also suggested by Cylus et al. [29].

The Troika recommended new income criteria for public health care beneficiaries, reducing health insurance coverage even further. This negative development pushed 150,000 people into the private market, where they will have to pay for their healthcare entirely out of pocket [30].

With regards to the private sector, the Ministry of Health introduced price reductions in order to reduce the financial burden (although this was not explicitly demanded by the Troika). We found only a modest 5.8% weighted reduction in total expenditure when we compared 2 baskets of 1691 commonly prescribed products under the old and new pricing system [31]. This is minor reduction compared to other countries such as Spain and Greece [32]. Moreover, prices below 10 Euros were frozen. This is of major importance since 47% of total private wholesale pharmaceutical expenditure falls in this category. In addition, OTC products will be priced freely.

In this context, pharmacists' remuneration in the private sector changed from a flat percentage to a regressive margin, which may remove the incentive to dispense more expensive medicines (37% for EPR below 50 Euros, 33% for EPR between 50 and 250 and 25% for EPR over 250 Euros). A prescription fee of 1 Euro was also implemented, cancelling out part of the benefit of the new pricing scheme. This has a negative impact on private sector patients, without being combined with any new activities of pharmacists such as cognitive services and management of chronic conditions, which are usually the reason for introduction of prescription fees in other countries [33].

Physicians' response to measures was positive [34,35] and they were involved in the process by participating in the creation of guidelines. Indicatively, some guidelines have already been finalised [36]. The introduction of the regressive pharmacy profit margin has a limited effect on the profitability of private pharmacists, since the lowest profit margin tier (25%) pertains to medicines which are mainly dispensed by public sector pharmacies. Consequently, private sector pharmacists also reacted positively, and the 1-Euro prescription fee may have contributed to a positive reception of the measures.

4. Options for further policy changes towards efficiency

4.1. Public sector

The special nature of the Cypriot pharmaceutical market leaves little room for many of the available supply-side drug policies that are implemented in other EU countries. While other countries in crisis have implemented tenders to achieve swift savings in the pharmaceutical market, Cyprus had already exhausted this possibility prior to the crisis, so interventions must be sought elsewhere. However, new drugs can achieve higher prices due to the lack of direct substitutes with comparable clinical outcomes, which makes the tendering process ineffective. In this case

there may be room for alternative pricing policies, which the Cypriot government may draw from experience in other countries. Innovative pricing mechanisms that can be adopted include risk-sharing and managed entry agreements, in which case coverage depends on clinical evidence and the available budget. These have been applied "where risk and uncertainty about value are very high in relation to the cost of the treatment, and the result is a very high cost per unit of health gain, which is deemed unaffordable by health insurers" [37]. Via this mechanism, manufacturers may have to lower their prices, provide discounts or adjust the cost-effectiveness ratio [38,39]. In Italy, current outcome-related risk sharing schemes generated savings up to 50% for innovative products (such as erlotib and sorafenib) [40], while in the UK a non-outcome coverage decision was reached between a pharmaceutical company and NHS, which provides that NHS will cover the cost of first 14 injections, and any subsequent costs burden the supplier [41]. In the same context, a value based pricing scheme, according to which the price should be aligned to the clinical value of the product, could be selectively implemented, as some authors propose [42].

To address overprescribing (which can also be a threat to public health [11]), health authorities can introduce interventions on the demand side. These can include financial incentives for physicians to encourage rational prescribing, such as budgets, as in the English NHS [12,43]. Although budgets can reduce overprescribing [44], if they are not carefully designed and adjusted for each physicians' patients' demographic and other characteristics, they may provide a barrier to access to care. In addition, information campaigns can inform patients of the dangers of overconsumption of drugs, as overpre-scribing may be driven by demanding patients [45]. Of course, the preparation of clinical guidelines for all major diseases must go forward as planned and, once ready, carefully followed by physicians, as these can also prevent a switch in prescribing from off-patent towards in-patent medicines [46]. It is also essential that e-prescribing is implemented across the country, so that prescribing is monitored and appropriate feedback is sent to physicians (currently this is only done on a trial basis in two hospitals). Finally, appropriate detailing and marketing regulation must be adopted: Pharmaceutical Marketing activities have not been regulated apart from an ethics code agreed among seven R&D Companies and there is some evidence that aggressive promotion ofsome products may accelerate their early uptake and induce supply-side demand [47-49].

Further implementation of HTA seems challenging due to economies of scales issues and duration of the process but a combination proposed by Vandoros and Stargardt [8], which limits external price referencing to countries that already apply HTA and then adjusts for the local market needs and characteristics could be a rational starting point. An alternative could be the introduction of two versions of HTA with regards to Budget Impact Analysis of products: (a) A full version for estimated sales above a certain threshold; and (b) a rapid (light) version for estimated sales below this threshold [50].

4.2. Private sector

While the public sector appears to demonstrate relatively low prices in most cases, things are different in the private sector. Given that these patients have no other option, this part of the market also deserves attention, until universal health insurance is implemented. First, setting generic prices at the 80% level of originators is relatively high and the potential for further savings for private-sector patients is foregone. Different generic policies can be adopted, such as lower price caps or internal reference pricing. Both these mechanisms also work as a price floor apart from a price ceiling, but they normally lead to lower prices than 80% of the originator price, which is the case in Cyprus [19]. Free generic pricing has resulted in even lower generic prices in the UK and US [19,51], but this is not recommended for a small market with few generic competitors, as Cyprus. For in-patent markets, external reference pricing can work well, as long as prices are updated frequently and adjusted for local market characteristics; otherwise prices just reflect the situation in other markets in a different time period.

OTC drugs provide treatment for minor and frequent conditions and as such they constitute an important segment of pharmaceutical care. It appears that the fact that the market in Cyprus is small, and the presence of other market characteristics cannot enhance competition, as prices have recently been increasing, indicating that there is perhaps room for action on this particular segment of the market [52].

In addition, the recent introduction of a pharmacist fee seems to have been unnecessary, since it was not substantiated by the introduction of additional pharmacist activities [20].

5. Discussion and policy implications

We have discussed the policy measures that have been adopted in the Cypriot pharmaceutical market as a result of the financial crisis and have recommended measures for further changes in order to increase efficiency without sacrificing access to care. Our recommendations for the public sector include risk-sharing for innovative drugs; restrictions on marketing and detailing; e-prescribing at the national level; and demand-side measures such as clinical guidelines, physician budgets, and prescription monitoring. For the private sector we recommend internal reference pricing or lower price caps for generic drugs, and more frequent revisions of prices under the external reference pricing scheme for in-patent originators. Table 1 presents a summary of the measures suggested by the Troika and their main expected effects.

The private sector has been ignored in the effort to rationalise the pharmaceutical market. Nevertheless, the importance of this segment is underlined by the fact that a significant part of the population is not covered by public health insurance, which is aggravated by the exclusion of 150,000 beneficiaries from public sector health care coverage, imposed by the Troika. While interventions are needed in the private sector to ensure the afford-ability of drugs, the ultimate goal should be to swiftly

Table 1

The Troika's main recommendations on pharmaceuticals.

Health sector Current state

Troika's approach


Author's comments




Cost sharing



Clinical guidelines Public and medical audit

External reference pricing

Tendering (based on reference pricing)

Not applicable


Prescribing guidelines for high value products

Not explicitly raised yet (although price reductions were implemented due to the crisis)

Reduced agreed budget for public health expenditure is not exceeded

Introduction of capped fixed co-payment fee to reduce medically unnecessary demand for pharmaceuticals

Introduction of intergraded HTA to selected pharmaceuticals and consumables

Implementation of guidelines and medical audit for ten high volume and value diseases

Low prices may lead to shortages of medicines due to reduced profitability of industry, which is aggravated by the fact that it is a small and unattractive market

Limited room for further price reductions

May restrict access to health care

Economies of scale (human resources). A time-consuming process that requires resources and capacity

Education, monitoring and audit are essential. It must be decided how divergence from guidelines will be addressed

Significant reductions can be achieved under a unified market in the context of a National Health System. Frequent price revisions and lower generic prices Introduction of supplementary approaches to further enhance system such as risk sharing and managed entry agreements Cost sharing can help address the problem of overusing medicines, which has been dominant in the public sector. Socioeconomic conditions must be taken into account so that it does not work as a barrier to treatment Referencing countries that have HTA. Alternatively, two versions (rapid and full) based on Budget Impact Analysis (BIA) Essential measure that must be prioritised

shift towards a system of universal health insurance, as in other EU countries. The exclusion of patients from public health insurance is in the exact opposite direction, and can only have a negative effect on the population's health.

While the authorities work towards increasing efficiency with the implementation of (mainly) demand measures, it is crucial that any savings that occur are reinvested in the health sector as there is great need for additional funding elsewhere in the healthcare system [53]. Previous studies have shown that in other countries affected by the crisis, the populations' health deteriorated, either directly [54-57] or indirectly [58]. In order to prevent a public health disaster, any interventions adopted must increase efficiency without sacrificing quality of or access to healthcare.


We are grateful to the Editor of the Journal, Wilm Quentin, and two anonymous referees for their constructive comments. We would also like to thank the EUROB for enabling open access for this article. Thanks are also due to Gnosia Achniotou for fruitful discussions. All outstanding errors are our own.


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