WARSAW, 2 Nov (APM) - Poland's National Health Fund is set to spend almost 191 million zlotys (€44.1 million) more on reimbursing innovative drugs, Rzeczpospolita (p17) reported on Friday.
Raised reimbursement proposals come as part of the new regulations on increasing the country's reimbursement budget for 2019, which are currently under consultation.
The budget increase is planned to enable Poland's health minister to form the drug policy more effectively and could improve the situation for patients who currently do not have proper access to treatment.
Controversy over Poland's decision to reimburse Novartis' Cosentyx
Controversies have arisen around the Polish health ministry’s decision to reimburse Novartis' Cosentyx (secukinumab), a drug used for treating ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis, Gazeta Wyborcza (p3) reported on Tuesday.
Poland's latest reimbursement list became effective on 1 November. Novartis has been trying to add Cosentyx to the reimbursement list for several years, but the officials always declined because of its high price.
The deputy health minister responsible for the drug policy, Marcin Czech, has now decided to add the drug to the reimbursement list within both the ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis drug programmes, even though the HTA agency only issued a positive recommendation for the former.
This positive recommendation was accompanied by a remark that the price of the drug is very high and there are no indications for which Cosentyx is superior to cheaper alternatives.
Even so, the drug was added to the list at a price of almost 5,000 zlotys (€1,155) per packet, which is almost 2,000 zlotys (€462) more than other drugs used for treating ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.
Furthermore, Cosentyx has received preferential terms, because its efficacy will be assessed not after the standard three and six month periods, as in the case of other reimbursable drugs used in these indications, but after four and seven month periods.
The Ministry of Health has refused to comment on this to date, but this is not the first time Czech has disregarded the recommendations of the HTA agency and the regulations of the Reimbursement Act on drug pricing.
Budget for free drugs for the elderly increased
The Polish Sejm has increased the budget which allows free drugs for patients aged over 75 by 50 million zlotys (€11.6 million), to 700 million zlotys (€161.7 million) in 2018, Gazeta Wyborcza (Tylko Zdrowie supplement, p2) reported on Friday.
However, Elzbieta Cichocka, Gazeta Wyborcza’s expert, said she is concerned about whether the financing of such drugs will be sustainable.
The business climate in Poland is currently good, but it could change in the future, she warned, adding that the number of patients entitled to receive free drugs will increase.
The situation of many other patient groups is still much worse than in other European countries, she noted, as in the case for the chronically ill, those suffering from rare diseases and pensioners aged under 75.
Access to HPV vaccinations is limited in Poland
While HPV vaccinations for teenagers are fully or at least partially reimbursed in most European countries, they are voluntary and reimbursed only by some local authorities in Poland, Gazeta Wyborcza (Wysokie Obcasy supplement, p33) reported on Saturday.
Three HPV vaccines are currently available on the Polish market and the price of the full vaccination cycle is 1,000-1,200 zlotys (€231-277). However, according to the National Institute of Public Health, only 7.5-10% of teenagers are vaccinated.
In countries where HPV vaccinations are organised by the state, rate of HPV infections has declined by 90% over the past ten years, the article points out.
Experts claim the biggest barriers to popularising HPV vaccinations in Poland are financing, aversion and lack of belief that they are beneficial, as well as the general opinion that they encourage earlier sexual initiation.
The HPV virus is linked to cervical cancer in women. Approximately 1,700 Polish women die of cervical cancer each year.
Supreme Pharmaceutical Council VP slams vaccine detractors
The vice-president of the Supreme Pharmaceutical Council, Marek Tomkow, has criticised the Polish doctors who are refusing to administer vaccines bought in pharmacies, calling their behaviour groundless, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (pB4) reported on Tuesday.
Tomkow noted that some doctors are refusing to administer these vaccines under concerns they are unsafe. He added that the problem seems to have arisen from an absurd statement by the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate, which claimed that vaccines should not be taken from pharmacies to health centres by patients to be administered to be sure the proper storage conditions are observed.
Vaccines brought by patients to health centres from pharmacies are safe, Tomkow said, stressing that the only difference in this system is usually the price paid, as vaccines can only be bought under reimbursement conditions from pharmacies.
Poles do not trust vaccinations
Meanwhile, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (pA4) reported on Monday that Poland has one of the lowest levels of trust in vaccinations in the EU.
According to the report prepared by the European Commission, only 75.9% of Poles believe vaccinating children is important. Just 72.4% of Poles believe that vaccines are safe, 74.9% believe they are effective and only 59.3% believe vaccinations are in line with their religious beliefs.
These results put Poles among the most adamantly anti-vaccination nations in Europe, even though many vaccines in Poland are obligatory and administered free of charge.
The EU officials warn the situation should be contained, especially with the risk of a measles epidemic after a rapid increase in infections throughout Europe, which reached 41,000 cases in the first quarter of the year.
Poland is trying to prevent a measles epidemic
With a rising number of cases of measles in Poland, the National Health Fund (NHF) and the Ministry of Health are taking steps to contain the situation and prevent an epidemic, reported Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (pA1 & A3) on Tuesday.
Polish officials are working with their Ukrainian counterparts, as a study of virus genotypes in Poland suggests that the disease is spreading from Ukraine. Experts say Ukraine had 33,000 cases of measles in 2018, of which 14 were fatal and that it has the highest percentage of un-vaccinated people in Europe.
Poland's NHF is currently financing measles vaccinations in full, even for patients without health insurance. The country had 158 cases of measles this year up to 15 October, compared with 58 cases in 2017.
While the percentage of Poles vaccinated against measles used to be around 98%, it could drop below 95% this year, mainly because of the influence of the anti-vaccination lobbies.