Medicines are expensive in Switzerland and while a number of groups such as Santé Suisse are working hard to secure savings, the problem of relatively high prices continues. High drug prices persist in Switzerland for three key reasons.
1. Too many branded drugs
There are two kinds of drugs: branded and generic drugs with expired-patents. Because generic drugs can be 20% to 80% cheaper than branded equivalents, most health authorities work to ensure, that where possible cheaper generic drugs are used instead of branded ones. Switzerland scores poorly on this front. The latest OECD country comparison (2012) shows Swiss generic purchases at 14% of total drug expenditure compared to an OECD average of 24% and percentages as high as 59% in Chile.
2. Generic drugs expensive in Switzerland
Prices of generics in Switzerland are high. A February 2015 Santé Suisse report shows that Swiss generic drug prices are close to double those of the six European Union (EU) comparison countries (Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, UK and Holland).
3. Exchange rates that favour drug makers
According to a Santé Suisse comparison the price of branded drugs with unexpired patents at November 2014 were on average the same in Switzerland as they were in the six EU reference countries. That comparison however, was done at an exchange rate of 1.29. At the current exchange rate of 1.05 they would now be 23% more expensive. The story is much the same for branded drugs with expired patents.
Swiss generic drugs, close to double the price at an exchange rate of 1.29, will now be close to 2.5 times the price of their equivalents in the six comparison countries at the new rate of 1.05.
Strong franc unlikely to translate into savings
According to an article in the newspaper the Tages Anzeiger on 7 April 2015, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) allows drug makers to calculate 2015 prices based on the average exchange rate for the period from February 2014 to the end of 2014, rather than the exchange rate at the time of sale. Because the Swiss franc cap was dropped on 15 January 2015 the new exchange rate is not included in the calculation.
No time to process exchange rate savings
In any case exchange rate changes are only applied to around one third of medicines and even then only if the FOPH can find the time and resources to process them, according to an article in the newspaper 24 Heures.
It seems payers of Swiss health insurance premiums will have to bear the pain of high drug prices for some time yet.