Yesterday (September 6), the Greek government cut the prices of over 4,000 drugs by an average of 20%, in the first stage of a reference-pricing exercise which will eventually reprice a total of 12,000 drugs based on the three lowest-priced markets in the European Union (EU) which have such pricing data.

Yesterday’s cuts are expected to produce overall savings for social insurance funds totalling 1.2 billion euros a year, according to the Ministry of Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping, which also said that the new pharmaceuticals price list covers a total of 7,154 medicines, including 324 new drugs, and accounts for 97% of the nation’s drugs bill. The new list increases the prices of 1,370 products, while for another 613 they remain the same. For a “small number” of products, a problem occurred in the pricing process, requiring further investigation and inspections, and for these a corrected price list will be issued on September 27, the Ministry added, according to a report from the Athens News Agency.

The cuts are being implemented as part of undertakings agreed by Greece in return for the 100 billion-euro economic bailout provided by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May, when the country faced bankruptcy.

Compared to the provisional 21.5% average across-the-board price cuts imposed in May, yesterday’s reductions mean that the prices of 3,373 drugs are now lower, 2,658 are higher and 799 remain unchanged, says the Ministry. However, some of the reductions are much higher than 20%; for example, the price of AstraZeneca’s prostate cancer drug Casodex (bicalutamide) has plummeted 59.6% and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s cancer treatment Taxol (paclitaxel) is down 40.7%.

Under the new reference price-based system, the Greek authorities will review domestic drug prices three times a year, and will limit the cost of generic drugs included in the list to no more than 72% of the price of the originator product.

The Ministry has also announced that May’s blanket price cuts have now been replaced by a new law which states that, until next March 31, wholesale prices of medicines costing 50 euros or less may not be adjusted down by more than 40% or up by more than 10%. The move is aimed at stopping drugmakers from withdrawing products from the Greek market because of unacceptably low prices.