Access to life saving medicines debate in plenary of European Parliament

European Parliament Strasbourg Plenary Session

Subject: Commission statement – Access to life-saving medicines in Europe

Date: September 16 2014


Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action said that the Commission shared the concerns regarding the affordability of new medical products and the related risk of inequalities. She added that the Commission Communication in April 2014 on resilient health systems focuses on increasing accessibility to health services. At the June health ministers’ Council, France raised the issue of the new Hepatitis C treatment. Member states will discuss pricing and reimbursement in the coming months. This new treatment is not an isolated case. Therefore, the Commission is looking forward to the debate on the therapeutic innovation at next week’s health ministers’ Council. As regards, support to medical innovation, the Commission believes in the contribution of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). She commented that the European pharmaceutical legislation includes a wide spectrum of measures to guarantee access to necessary medicines. The Commission has however no competence to regulate the level of prices. Thus there can be no price caps but it can nonetheless help with the exchange of information between member states. She concluded by saying that another way in which the European Commission could assist member states is through the use of the joint procurement mechanism.

Miroslav Mikolasik (EPP, SK) stated that this is an important topic for patients and saving lives. He emphasized the fact that the situation is not the same across all member states. He added that the high prices of medicines reflect the research that led to their development. Nevertheless, ppharmaceutical companies should not misuse nor abuse their unique position. In the period 2000-2009, public spending for medicines has increased by 76% and this is unprecedented. The EU population is ageing and the prices of new medicines are constantly increasing.

Biljana Borzan (S&D, HR) said that medical progress leads to efficient but expensive medicines. Millions of euros are used to save banks in Europe today while Europeans lack access to necessary medicines. Public funds should be used to promote medical research and development. She called for shorter patents because prices go down when patents expire.

Beatrix Von Storch (ECR, DE) stated that on the 18th of October 2011 the European Court of Justice made that human life begins at the stage when the semen touches the egg. She therefore criticized stem cell research. The European Commission should discourage stem cell research because this equals destruction of human life.

Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea (ALDE, ES) said that Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that constitutes a public health crisis. She favoured the issuing of a compulsory license that will enable the manufacturing of a generic. The EU should challenge the patent legally. She added that the option of joint public procurement should be examined. Egypt imports the generic equivalent of the new Hepatitis C treatment at a price 100 times lower. Another 90 developing countries will benefit from India’s decision to produce generic equivalents. In her view, the Commission should defend the general interest of European citizens. She gave the example of price caps for roaming and wondered what is more important public health or a matter like roaming costs.

Kostas Chrysogonos (GUE/NGL, EL) said that pharmaceutical companies push for ever higher prices through their monopolies. High prices are not the only obstacle to people’s access to life-saving medicines. In reality, the competent bodies inside the EU are not only indifferent towards these prices but also impose spending cuts on health services. The worst situation is faced by those countries under memoranda where the Troika demands continuously cuts in public health expenditure.

Michele Rivasi (Greens/EFA, FR) stated that the new treatment against Hepatitis C affects millions of Europeans. It therefore becomes a real public health question. She called for compulsory licenses against long patents and monopolies. She explained that compulsory licenses will open the markets. There is also the question of medical research. In this respect, the current Western African Ebola crisis is due to the fact that no pharmaceutical company has invested in developing a vaccine because it would not be profitable. In other words, public health becomes a market-driven policy.

Dario Tamburrano (EFD, IT) welcomed the debate. He criticized the fact that DG Industry will be responsible for health matters in the new Commission.

Eva Kaili (S&D, EL) argued that human rights are more important than intellectual property rights. She called for more transparency in order to know what is happening with medical innovation inside big pharmaceutical companies. She called for shorter patents. In her view, the EU should act against these ridiculous prices of medicines. Moreover, she favoured the use of generics.

Branislav Skripek (ECR, SK) said that medicines should be available to all and not only to the privileged ones. He defended people’s access to health care services.

Marian Harkin (ALDE, IE) said that countries undergoing austerity programs are faced with the most serious challenges. The Commission admits that these cuts in health expenditure affect the most vulnerable parts of the society. She called on European Commission president Junker to revisit his decision about assigning health issues such as pharmaceutical products to DG Enterprise and Industry.

Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL, PT) said that these prices are scandalous especially for countries forced to cut their public health budget. She argued that this is shameful profiteering on behalf of big pharmaceutical companies and has nothing to do with funding innovative research. The European Commission might not be able to do much about prices but it can certainly put an end to patent monopolies, if there is political will.

Margrete Auken (Greens/EFA, DK) said that the greed of the pharmaceutical industry is unlimited. Even though, it is a fact that most of medical innovation comes from publicly funded research, industry is allowed to profit from European taxpayers’ money. She added that moving the pharmaceutical industry dossier to DG Enterprise is a cynical idea. Human lives should not be sacrificed for more money.

Giorgos Grammatikakis (S&D, EL) stated that over the past few years, there has been a serious access to medicines crisis in Greece. He explained that many pharmaceutical companies blackmailed the country with shortages and stock-outs. He stressed that small countries like Greece cannot stand up against the big pharmaceutical interests and thus called for increased European cooperation on this matter.

Angela Vallina (GUE/NGL, ES) called for better checks of pharmaceutical companies in the EU. She called for lower prices of medicines. The EU should not be a silent witness when people are dying despite the fact that there is a treatment.

Soledad Cabezon Ruiz (S&D, ES) said that the EU should investigate the profits of pharmaceutical companies. Everyone in Europe should have access to life-saving treatments. She also called for a review of intellectual property rights when it comes to medical innovation and research.

Catch the eye procedure

Joao Ferreira (GUE/NGL, PT) criticized the Commission for not doing more than just talking. He said that the European Commission is part of the Troika which imposes the strictest public health spending cuts.

Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action reminded that the European Commission has no competence over pricing of medicines. She nevertheless stressed that the Commission can do other things such as promote the exchange of information between member states. She added that it is up to member states to take these matters forward and expressed her certainty that the informal health ministers’ council will have this item on its agenda at their next meeting.