Pharmac has been placed in the spotlight over their decision earlier in the year to fund only one brand of anti-epileptic medication, lamotrigine, instead of the previously funded three lamotrigine brands.
Prior to the switch, Medsafe warned Pharmac that the switch posed a “significant safety issue” and was “against international consensus on switching brands of anti-epileptic medicines”.
Despite the Medsafe warnings, Pharmac proceeded to approve an agreement with Mylan New Zealand Pty Ltd to only supply a single brand of lamotrigine, ‘Logem’, the switch aimed at recouping a supposed $30 million in savings over five years.
From October 1st 2019, Pharmac ceased funding of the two major brands, Lamictal and Arrow-Lamotrigine, used by 90 percent of New Zealand patients with epilepsy. As a result, these patients were forced onto the generic version, Logem, impacting an estimated 11,000 people.
Since the brand switch decision, four deaths and 50 adverse reactions have been reported to the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring.
The Health and Disability Commissioner, Anthony Hill, is calling for an inquiry into the decision claiming that patient rights have been breached with many patients unaware their medication had been changed.
In a mea culpa, Pharmac recently reversed their controversial decision, backing down on the switch and enabling patients to obtain funding for their preferred medicine if supported by their GP.
Pharmac’s backflip provides a warning to funders that the benefits and harms to patients must be managed carefully when embarking on cost-savings measures.