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Spanish forced to pay for drugs as cuts take toll
MADRID (Reuters) - Patients in Spain will have to pay the full price for some prescription medicines under a new measure to cut healthcare costs approved on Wednesday, Health Minister Ana Mato confirmed at a press conference.
The new measure, which will come into effect in August, will apply to 425 drugs for "minor ailments", including migraines. Patients will have to pay 100 percent of the cost for codeine, some anti-inflammatories and laxatives, among other drugs.
"We're revising the financing of a series of drugs with little therapeutic use and for minor ailments. At the same time, we're going to be able to use public financing for new drugs and those with more therapeutic value," Mato said following a meeting with health representatives from Spain's 17 autonomous regions.
The Spanish government expects to save 458 million euros ($570.53 million) with the new measure to cut state support. This figure is part of 7 billion euros of savings already announced in April, a pharmaceutical industry source told Reuters earlier on Wednesday.
The autonomous regions account for around 50 percent of public spending and missed deficit targets by a wide margin last year.
Two regions, Andalucia and the Basque Country, objected at the meeting that they had not been provided with a full list of drugs beforehand and demanded more time to consult industry experts before applying the rule, Andalucia's representative Maria Jesus Montero told reporters.
However, Spain's ruling centre right People's Party (PP) has an absolute parliamentary majority and controls most of the country's regions. The measure will be implemented despite objections.
Spain, in the midst of a painful recession that has left one in four unemployed, has vowed to make a total 45 billion euros of public sector cuts this year.
"Some (drug) companies will suffer moderate or serious damage to their turnover, but not including those medicines in the list of excluded drugs would have been illogical and incoherent," Spain's Health Ministry said in a draft document seen by Reuters before the meeting.
Spain is also introducing a co-payment system which will kick in on Sunday, meaning the public will pay varying amounts for prescriptions depending on their income.
The move highlights the growing pressures on healthcare systems in southern Europe, which are buckling under the strain of austerity. In Greece, pharmacies are struggling with a tangle of unpaid bills and state hospitals are running out of some medicines.
Europe's drugmakers, meanwhile, are seeking special protection to keep supplies flowing to the worst-hit countries and ring-fence their businesses from emergency price cuts.
(Reporting by Clare Kane, Rodrigo De Miguel and Emma Pinedo; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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