Philippe Nantermod breaks the taboo on parallel imports

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Until now, it had always been a taboo: impossible, in the country of the pharmaceutical industry, to impose parallel imports of drugs. Yet this is what Philippe Nantermod (PLR / VS) is succeeding in seeing, who sees potential savings of 100 million. After having won two victories in the National Council, he still has to overcome the obstacle of the Council of States, of which the Health Commission (CSSS) sits at the beginning of next week.

In 2008, an exception for pharma

From April 12 to 14, this commission tackles the second part of a package of measures aimed at curbing healthcare costs. On the menu, the reference price of generic drugs that Federal Councilor Alain Berset wants to introduce, a reform which however wrecked the National Council. On October 29, he preferred a counter-project which included, to the general surprise of observers, parallel imports of generics. Even if it is possible that the CSSS of the Senate will not have time to address this subject in detail this week, one thing is certain: its thirteen members are subject to very aggressive lobbying on both sides.

Parallel imports had hitherto always been a taboo subject in Switzerland. In 2008, when it discussed the Trade Barriers Act paving the way for parallel imports, parliament agreed to make an exception for medicines. But since then, health costs have continued to climb, and this taboo is wavering more than ever, even if Philippe Nantermod did not really believe it when he launched into this fight for an assumed liberalism. at the end.

Read also: Generic drugs, the story of a stillborn reform

“I thought I had a one in ten chance of winning, given the opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and the Federal Council. “I had to face a very aggressive lobbying of the pharma,” he testifies without going into details. No one wants to confirm this to the PLR, but this industry has apparently put a lot of pressure on the head of the party to reconsider its decision to support its vice-president.

Philippe Nantermod attacked in all directions. He did so within the framework of the debate on the reference price of generic drugs, supposed to allow savings of 400 million francs. Finding the project too complex to implement, he rallied to a counter-project on condition of passing parallel imports by modifying two laws, that on trade barriers on the one hand, and that on therapeutic products. on the other hand. He won for the first time in the National Council. But he also launched a motion that it opens imports to all drugs. New success on March 10 with a final score of 137 votes to 33. All parties largely supported him, except that of the Center. The PLR ​​voted very compact. Note, however, that President Petra Gössi was absent for professional development and that group leader Beat Walti abstained.

Broad alliance for parallel imports

In the Council of States, the battle will be much tougher. The two camps split a letter to the members of the CSSS. The pharmaceutical industry, represented by Interpharma and Intergenerika, has warned of the dangers of such an approach for the supply of the country. “With parallel imports, it becomes impossible to guarantee all drug reserves. Importers can decide at any time to withdraw from a market deemed unattractive, ”explains Cécile Rivière, head of Interpharma in French-speaking Switzerland. Another risk is that of patient safety. “By bypassing Swissmedic’s supervisory authority, parallel imports open the door to counterfeits in Switzerland which can generate considerable additional costs for the health system”, she adds.

Philippe Nantermod for his part has forged an alliance bringing together the two umbrella organizations of health insurance Santésuisse and curafutura, that of H + hospitals, the French-speaking Federation of consumers and that of patients. Santésuisse refutes the arguments of the pharmaceutical industry. “Thanks to parallel imports and the multiplication of supplier channels, Switzerland’s security of supply would be strengthened,” notes its spokesperson Christophe Kaempf. The Covid-19 pandemic has also shown that a locked market, in the hands of a few importers, does not guarantee 100% safe delivery of drugs. As for patient safety, Santésuisse specifies that the Swissmedic validation authority retains the right to ban a problematic drug. “The examples of imports in other sensitive sectors such as chemicals and construction materials show that it is possible to stimulate healthy competition without endangering the health of the population,” adds Christophe Kaempf.

Contacted by Le Temps, the members of the CSSS of the Council of States have yet to reveal anything of their intentions. “In the face of skyrocketing healthcare costs, no subject should be taboo,” says Erich Ettlin (The Center / OW). “But it is absolutely necessary to ensure the quality of these drugs”.