Drug suppliers warn health-sector debts could lead to treatment shortages

Farmaindustria association says supply may be cut off to some regions

Some companies already avoid selling to certain areas due to delayed payment

If regional governments keep failing to pay their pharmaceutical bills, "the supply could be cut off," Humberto Arnés, head of the Farmaindustria association, warned on Friday.

His deputy, Javier Urzay, said there are already small pharmaceutical companies that avoid selling drugs to certain regions because of the risk of not getting paid for more than two years. Urzay mentioned Valencia and Andalusia as being among the culprits. For now, though, he insisted, there is no risk for patients because these suppliers are replaced by others.

In the Valencia region, pharmacies went on strike recently to protest the fact that they were not getting paid by health authorities for subsidized prescription drugs. Meanwhile, Catalonia has announced a one-euro charge for patients who get prescriptions from the public health service; the fee will be introduced in May as part of a slew of cost-cutting measures affecting the health sector in the northeastern region.

Spain has already been warned by the Swiss laboratory Roche, which has stopped servicing some Greek health centers. At one point, the company began charging a Castellón hospital for each antitumoral drug it supplied, rather than charging it to the account as before. Another lab, Novartis, included Spain in a warning about the risk of certain countries defaulting on their drug bills.

Regions owe pharmaceutical labs over 6.7 billion euros for medicines sold to public hospitals. Arnés warned that if public spending on health continues to be slashed, things could reach the point where authorities will have to choose which treatments to stop subsidizing to focus on the truly serious diseases.

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