Solidaris closes its petitions for fair drug prices with more than 50.000 signatures


On Monday 19 February, our member Solidaris closed its petition for fairer drug prices with gathered around 55,000 signatures. The next stage will probably be a hearing before the House of Commons Health Committee. In response to imbalanced price negotiations dominated by pharmaceutical companies, Solidaris is proposing a “fair price calculator”, which it believes could save the social security system up to €1 billion a year.

To mark the occasion, a Solidaris delegation arrived at the House of Commons on Monday lunchtime for a symbolic action, with a giant pill under their arm. The two General Secretaries, Jean-Pascal Labille and Paul Callewaert, met briefly with Eliane Tillieux (PS), the Speaker of the House. In the afternoon, they presented their demands to the Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health, Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit).

The petition was launched by Solidaris at the end of January 2023, to put the issue on the agenda of elected representatives. “As events unfold, the departments will check the validity (of the signatures) and the Petitions Committee will meet, certainly before the end of the legislature”, to decide what will happen to the petition, commented Eliane Tillieux as she received the Solidaris representatives. Once 25,000 signatures have been obtained, the initiators of the petition may, if they wish, be heard by the relevant committee. “We hope to have this debate before the end of the legislature”, says Jean-Pascal Labille, “and, what’s more, during the Belgian Presidency of the EU, because setting the price of medicines is not just a Belgian issue, it’s a European one”.

According to Solidaris, the health insurance system spends more than €5.4 billion a year on medicines. “Based on a model developed by the Association Internationale de la Mutualité, we believe that this is a billion euros too much”, explains Jean-Pascal Labille. The amounts negotiated between pharmaceutical companies and the State, sometimes via secret contracts with the relevant minister’s office, are particularly excessive for innovative cancer drugs or treatments for rare diseases. And with good reason: the pharmaceutical sector is in a strong position in these discussions, relying on the confidentiality of contracts with other countries, a powerful lobby and the weight of employment it represents in Belgium.

The aim of the petition is to amend the law on compulsory health care and compensation insurance. The aim is to introduce “transparent, objective criteria” for negotiation, taking into account the real cost (production, research) of the product in order to help arrive at a fair price that would also include a premium for innovation and a “reasonable” margin for the company.

“The event that startled me into proposing this model was the launch of the hepatitis C drugs,” explained Anne Hendrickx, economist and Solidaris advisor, on Monday. “Sovaldi was marketed throughout Europe at a price of around €40,000, sometimes with confidential discounts. In the model, the treatment costs 900 euros. There was no complexity in production, and there hasn’t been much research (…) A US Senate investigation has also shown that the price was set to maximise profit, knowing full well that not everyone would have access to it”. In Belgium, reimbursement was initially limited to the sickest patients, even though around 1% of the population is thought to be affected by the disease.
“For rare diseases, a treatment that slows the progression of the disease costs between 300,000 and 500,000 euros per patient per year. It’s unaffordable”, adds Anne Hendrickx.