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74 drugs to be added to national insurance list

By YANG WANLI | China Daily | Updated: 2021-12-07 09:42
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Seventy-four drugs for treating rare diseases, COVID-19 and some major chronic diseases will be added to China's national insurance drug list from the start of next year, the National Healthcare Security Administration announced on Friday, adding that 11 drugs that have proved relatively ineffective and replaceable will be removed.

Following negotiations that began in October, the prices of 67 of the newly included drugs will be reduced by an average of 61.7 percent.

"The adjustments to the list have been made in accordance with the needs of the public," said Huang Huabo, director of the administration's drugs management department.

"The new list aims to further ease the financial burden on patients and encourage the production of more innovative drugs."

The updated list will cover 2,860 drugs - 1,486 of them Western ones and the others traditional Chinese herbs or drugs made from them.

Eighteen of the 74 newly added drugs target cancer, two are used for treating COVID-19 pneumonia, 15 treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, and seven others treat rare diseases such as hereditary angioedema, which causes unexpected swelling in various parts of the body, including the extremities, the gastrointestinal tract and the upper airways.

Preparations for the adjustment started in May. More than 500 applications dealing with 474 drugs were received by the administration, with 273 becoming candidates for final selection, said Long Xuewen, deputy director of the administration's management center.

The updated list will see the price of sodium oligomannate, which is derived from marine algae and has been developed by Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals to treat Alzheimer's disease, drop from 895 yuan to 296 yuan ($140 to $46).

Sodium oligomannate received its first approval in 2019 in China for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease by improving cognitive function. A patient usually needs to take four boxes a month, so its inclusion on the updated list will save the average patient almost 2,400 yuan a month.

A study in 2015 found that an Alzheimer's disease patient in China spent an average of 130,000 yuan a year on treatment.

"Our current production amount now can meet the needs of 1 million patients a year and we will maintain a high production quality to safeguard the health of our patients," said Li Jinhe, vice-president of Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals.

China's national medical insurance program provides full reimbursement for some drugs on the list and partial reimbursement for others.

Patients must pay the full price for drugs not on the list, which can leave them facing huge financial burdens, especially when new, more effective drugs are not covered.

Zheng Jie, an expert on the administration's drug negotiation team, said the development of medical technology had given people access to better drugs and medical care.

"However, the high prices of some drugs are still burdens for many people," he said. "Through our efforts, we hope more people in China can benefit from good, new drugs with cheaper prices."

The national insurance drug list has been adjusted annually over the past four years, with 507 new drugs having been added to it.

"We will continue our efforts to improve medical services and include more high-quality drugs with lower prices to benefit public health," Zheng said.

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