Costly meds a bitter pill to swallow

PETALING JAYA: High prices of medication charged by private clinics and private hospitals has forced companies to deal directly with pharmacies in an effort to reduce operational cost.

The move, which is trending among many local companies, helps them save millions of ringgit yearly in staff medical benefits.

Similarly, individuals who are on long-term medication would also be able to save as much as 40% if they buy directly from independent pharmacy stores.

A pharmaceutical industry source said the trend emerged slightly over a year ago when companies were trying to reduce their operational cost.

The source said companies found that by dealing directly with independent pharmacies, they could save substantially for their employees’ long-term medicines, especially those who have been diagnosed for diabetic, hypertension, cardiovascular and chronic kidney diseases.

Three different prices: The price of long-term medication obtained from a private hospital compared with a regular walk-in customer and corporate  discount  at the local pharmacy store.Three different prices: The price of long-term medication obtained from a private hospital compared with a regular walk-in customer and corporate discount at the local pharmacy store.

The source added that the difference in price can range from 20% all the way up to 150%.

“As such, buying directly from the pharmacy can help them to tremendously reduce their medical bills.”

A one-month supply of medicine for high blood pressure, for example, may cost RM75 at an independent pharmacy but the same medicine can be priced at between RM90 and RM100 at private clinics while the cost at private hospitals varies between RM150 and RM200.

“There is no price control to regulate the cost of these medicines and employers have no choice then but to bear the cost.”

Companies eventually realised that they could save as much as 40% by buying direct from independent pharmacies, especially for their workers who are on long-term medication.

The source said it is a huge saving for companies with a large workforce adding that a company with over 40,000 employees could save up to RM8 million a year through such move.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society treasurer Lim Jack Shen acknowledged that pharmacists could assist companies to reduce their medical cost.

He said aside from being able to help reduce cost, they would also assist to monitor and advise on the drugs dispensed to patients.

He said doctors and pharmacists could work together to expand medical knowledge.

“While the doctors’ role is to diagnose and treat a patient, the pharmacists oversee the dispensing of the drugs, to ensure the appropriate use of medications and medication safety.”

He said pharmacists were not trying to play doctors and undercut the business by dispensing the medicine to the patients.

“Each of the prescriptions issued by the doctors has a validity of three months under the Health Ministry regulation and requirements.

“As such, pharmacists dispensing these drugs would require the patients to get a fresh prescription every three months, to ensure they undergo proper medical review and checkup.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N. Ganabaskaran said it is the patient’s right to get their medicine directly from the pharmacy as long as they follow the existing law on prescription and dispensing of drugs.

However, he said, the patients have to come back to see a doctor for follow-ups and monitoring of drugs adherence, compliance and review the outcome of the treatment.

“Clinics are stringently regulated under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act to protect the patients. Pharmacy outlets are not regulated.”

Therefore, he said, they are concerned with patients’ safety and care being compromised through such programmes.

According to a private general practitioner (GP) in the Klang Valley, medicines that are bought in small quantity cost a lot, compared to those bought in bulk.

“I may have only one patient taking a particular medication, so I only buy one box a month just for this patient, for example, ” he said.

“Clinics in a chain, like Mediviron or Qualitas, get their medications in bulk.

“The HQ buys all the medicines for them at a big discounted price, then the individual clinics buy what they need from the HQ at that cheaper price.”

He added that wholesale pharmacies that supply clinics provide certain price packages, according to the amount of medicines being bought.

“If I buy just one box, it will be at cost price, which can be pretty expensive for certain drugs.

“But if I buy 1,000 boxes, the pharmacy will give me another 500 for free, so if you count the price for the 1,500 boxes altogether, I’m getting a 33% discount on the cost price.

“And the more you buy, the more ‘free’ boxes you get and the larger the discount, ” he said.

He added that private GPs rely on the profit from medications to sustain their business as the consultation fees (currently RM10-35 per consultation) are too low for doctors to make a living.

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