The issue of patients not receiving essential medicines because they cannot afford them is becoming a serious problem in the EU as the region battles through its economic crisis. In a briefing by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) on Access to Medicines in Europe in Times of Austerity, it was highlighted that the three factors that will determine whether or not a patient gets his/her medicine are “affordability and availability, in terms of access to medicines, and innovation in terms of developing new methods of assuring best possible health outcomes.”
S&D Spanish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Alejandro Cercas commented in a recent seminar that European governments are using the financial crisis as an excuse to cut public spending and as a result, “decades of social justice are being swept away in a matter of a few years” with citizens and residents feeling the negative effects of such austerity policies in European healthcare systems.
“It is unacceptable that millions can’t afford the best lifesaving treatment in the EU. More fiscal solidarity has not led to more general solidarity. We are putting the EU at risk,” said Cercas. “What also raises eyebrows is the sense of arbitrarily that comes with the cuts — lifesaving medicines should have never made it into any cut list. Healthcare systems should be at the very bottom of the austerity list, not as a default option,” Cercas added.
Monika Kosińska, Secretary General of EPHA, pointed out that failure to consider the health consequences of austerity policies means that medicines are becoming less affordable and increasingly hard for people to access. “In particular, it has hit communities who are already affected by the crisis and the cuts and are struggling to put food on the table, let alone to pay for the medicines they need,” said Kosińska.
The situation in Spain has been described as a fiscal discipline in disguise by Joan Rovira from the Department of Economic Theory at University of Barcelona. The Spanish government is moving from a universal health system to a model where coverage is linked to employment, which “recklessly excludes disadvantaged groups, like undocumented immigrants, from receiving timely and adequate healthcare,” said Rovira. “As a result, the growing incidence of infectious diseases, like AIDS, will no doubt lead to increased health care costs.”
The European Parliament is becoming a battlefield between public interests and big pharma companies, according to MEP Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE, Bulgaria). As key directives relating to public health are being debated in the Parliament, it is important that policy makers remember to put the people’s interest first ahead of industry’s profits, said Parvanova.
An extended version of EPHA’s press release on the seminar discussing Europe’s access to medicines can be found here with additional quotes from participants.