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Spanish forced to pay up for drugs as cuts bite

MADRID (Reuters) – Patients in Spain will have to pay the full price for some prescription medicines under a new measure to cut healthcare costs likely to be approved later on Wednesday, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The new rule on payments for 456 drugs will apply to medicines for “minor ailments,” including migraines. Patients will have to pay 100% of the cost for codeine, some anti-inflammatories and laxatives, among other drugs.

The Spanish government expects to save more than 440 million euros ($549 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 said.

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 the document.

The ministry will present the proposal to Spain’s high-spending regions at a meeting later on Wednesday. The regions account for around 50% of public spending and missed deficit targets by a wide margin last year.

Spain’s center-right ruling People’s Party (PP) has an absolute majority in parliament and also controls most of the country’s 17 autonomous regions, meaning the new measure is likely to be approved.

“It’s a minimal reduction in the drugs available, bearing in mind that there are 20,000 drugs and the list is just 450,” Manuel Cervera, the PP’s spokesman for health issues, said in parliament.

The Health Ministry declined to comment on the measure until after 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 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.