New drug list eases patients' burdens

By WANG XIAOYU| China Daily| Updated : Mar 2, 2021 L M S

A new national reimbursement drug list took effect on March 1 in a major boost to relieving the financial burden on Chinese patients and increasing accessibility to innovative, lifesaving drugs.

The updated list of 2,800 medicines covered by basic medical insurance was released in late December. It includes 119 newly added drugs with an average price cut of 51 percent, the National Healthcare Administration Bureau said.

The considerable price reduction is largely due to price negotiations between the administration and drug manufacturers in November and December, it said.

Patients are projected to save about 28 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) this year, thanks to price reductions and medical reimbursement, it said.

The administration said that compared to previous adjustments to the list, the latest additions cover a wider range of conditions, from cancer and rare diseases to COVID-19, in a bid to bring concrete benefits to more people.

At Beijing Tsinghua Changgung Hospital, Nie Guangmeng, head of the healthcare insurance department, said the hospital's information system is now linked to the new list and staff are on standby at outpatient units to address patients' questions to smooth the transition.

"The latest list will markedly ease the burdens of patients," he said. "For instance, the price of lenvatinib has dropped from 16,800 yuan to 3,240 yuan, and more people are eligible to claim reimbursement under the new policy."

Lenvatinib is a medication for treatment of thyroid cancer and some other cancers.

Yin Rutie, a gynecologist at West China Second University Hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan province, said the inclusion of olaparib, an innovative therapy against ovarian cancer, will slash out-of-pocket payments shouldered by patients by as much as 90 percent.

"For years, treatment targeting advanced stages of ovarian cancer mainly centered on surgeries and chemotherapy, but about 70 percent of patients are likely to relapse within two to three years following these standard procedures," she told Cover.cn, an online news portal.

Yin said based on available research, the promising drug is projected to raise the five-year survival rate of ovarian cancer patients to 70 percent, representing a "breakthrough and milestone" for patients.

She said the new drug list is expected to enable more patients to access the lifesaving medication.

The administration said the list includes 17 new cancer drugs. Through negotiations, the prices of 14 oncology medications already covered by medical insurance also dropped by an average of nearly 15 percent.

Cao Qian, founder of a nonprofit organization devoted to improving the lives of those affected by Huntington's disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease impairing mental and physical capabilities, said she and members of the organization were "both surprised and cheered" by the inclusion of deutetrabenazine, an innovative drug developed by global pharmaceutical company Teva.

She said the next crucial step is to hammer out the details of local reimbursement policies, further increase the proportion of reimbursable fees and explore the role of commercial insurance programs in alleviating financial strain.