Keeping medicines affordable

If the government does not take action, the cost of pharmaceutical drugs would rise by at least 10% every year. The government makes agreements with doctors, pharmacists and health insurers to control these costs. 

Including new medicines in the standard health insurance package

Health insurers are not automatically allowed to provide cover for any new medicine that comes onto the market. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the Healthcare Institute of the Netherlands decide what drugs fall under the standard health insurance package. Registered medicines have to be assessed (in Dutch) before they can be included in the Medicines Reimbursement System (GVS). Medicines listed in the GVS are fully or partially reimbursed by health insurers.

The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport exercises restraint in adding new medicines to the Medicines Reimbursement System. It wants to keep health care affordable. So the standard package offers a good, but not excessive, level of cover.

Maximum allowable prices for medicines

The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport sets maximum allowable prices for medicines (in Dutch) in accordance with the Medicine Prices Act. When buying in drugs, pharmacists may not pay more than the maximum prices. These are set by comparing prices in four reference countries: Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Before the Medicine Prices Act came into force, medicines in the Netherlands cost about 20% more than in neighbouring countries.

Reducing the cost of expensive medicines

The Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) wants to know why some medicines are so expensive (in Dutch). She believes people have the right to know what their health insurance premiums are being spent on. Drug pricing will be high on the minister’s agenda during the Dutch EU Presidency in 2016.

The Netherlands and Belgium are going to jointly negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Together, the two countries represent a larger group of patients. This will make it easier for them to negotiate lower prices with drug companies. They will especially try to negotiate lower prices for expensive medicines, including orphan drugs which are used to treat rare diseases.

Health insurers provide cover for the cheapest version of a drug

Most health insurers only provide cover for the cheapest version of a registered medicine. These cheaper medicines, which are sometimes called generic drugs, have the same active ingredient as the branded drug. By using cheaper versions of the same medicine:

  • health insurers spend less money on medication;
  • so that they can keep premiums low;
  • and patients pay the lowest price for medicine that falls under their excess.