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June 27, 2017

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Consumers' Foundation slams NHIA price hikes

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Consumers' Foundation yesterday slammed the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) for expanding the "drug price differential black hole" by hiking drug prices for the benefit of large hospitals.

According to the Consumers' Foundation, drug prices in hospitals and medical centers increase at an annual average of 20 percent; with 25 percent of the NT$550 billion national insurance fund to be used to purchase medication, the people are spending a total of NT$2.75 billion each year just on drugs — an obvious hike from previous years, thus the "black hole" moniker.

Taiwanese people rely on 6.5 times the prescription drugs compared to Americans, and a public survey in Taiwan pointed out that 57.38 percent of citizens felt that doctors had "prescribed more drugs than needed," while 41.43 percent of people reported that they normally do not finish their prescribed medicine. The statistics indicate that prescription drugs are being wasted excessively in Taiwan, said the Consumers' Foundation.

Instead of trying to stem the yearly losses that result from unnecessary drug price hikes, the NHIA recently launched the "Health Insurance Expense Goal System," something that would only worsen the current situation, accused the Consumers' Foundation.

The system's two-year trial began in 2013, aiming to set precedents for annual drug expenses; there would be an official hike in drug prices if the nation spent more money on medicine than previously estimated. The NHIA said that the system was implemented to lower drug prices reasonably in the future, and to regulate the drug dosage consumed by the public to clear away "allegations" of excessive drug waste.

The annual hike in drug pricing in 2013 was estimated to be 4.528 percent, but in fact the public has spent an extra NT$5.67 billion on prescription drugs when compared to 2012; the actual hike was 8.79 percent — almost double the estimated percentage.

The NHIA had scheduled to raise drug prices on April 1 this year, but delayed the hike to May 1 when pharmacists complained. The delay caused a shortage in medication for many patients and consumers who had the prescription slip but could not purchase the drugs, noted the Consumers' Foundation.

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