Greece's parliament has passed major new pharmaceutical cost-containment  legislation which will require drugmakers to cover, each quarter, any overspending on the strict limits which the bill sets for the national drugs bill.

The new law - which passed on a 213-58 vote, with a number of deputies abstaining - states that overall drugs spending by Greece's social insurance funds must not exceed 2.88 billion euros for this year.

The legislation also mandates that, from April 1, clinicians must prescribe medicines from the 10 most-widely used therapeutic classes by generic name only, and from June 1 this requirement will apply to all products on Greece's positive reimbursement list. The funds will reimburse at the level of the cheapest product in each class, and any cost difference between this and the product supplied will have to be paid for by the patient.

Moreover, "inappropriate" prescribing - ie, of medicines by other than their generic name, and not of the cheapest product available - will now be classed as a criminal offence, according to local reports.

Generics currently account for just 18% of the pharmaceutical market in Greece, one of the lowest levels in the European Union (EU), and the latest measures aim to bring this up to the EU average of 50%. Health Minister Andreas Loverdos - who says he intends to slice a massive one billion euros off the nation's drug spending in a single year - has condemned a "coalition of interests" for allegedly attempting to cast doubts on the quality and safety of generics with the aim of hindering their wider uptake in Greece; however, counterfeit drugs are a significantly greater problem for Greece than for other EU nations.

The new law also seeks to save money by mandating the use of computerised prescriptions, with the imposition of a 1-euro fine on doctors for each hand-written prescription, and deregulation of pharmacy opening hours.

The legislation constitutes a requirement by the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Greece's  "troika" of creditors - for agreeing a second bailout of 130 billion euros for Greece. 

It is also reported that Yiannis Tounta, president of Greece's National Organisation of Medicines (EOF) has been in talks with the troika concerning moves to delay the introduction into Greece of innovative new medicines until the products have been accepted for reimbursement by 8-10 other EU member states. Cancer drugs would be excluded from the proposals.

Commenting on the new legislation, analysts at IHS Global Inslght say that the requirement for pharmaceutical companies to pay back any spending above the stated limit in each quarter is "very negative." This is especially so given that many multinational and Greek drugmakers are owed considerable amounts, by the public hospitals in particular, and that the multinationals which have been paid in Greek government bonds have seen their value plummet, they note.

• A number of decrees concerning implementation of some of the major measures contained within the cost-containment legislation are expected to be announced shortly.