In April, it was announced that as of 2016, Belgium and the Netherlands will work together to negotiate prices of orphan medicines with pharmaceutical companies. This is a historic step in the European Union (EU) and is a concerted effort by the two countries to increase their bargaining power in price negotiations. The partnership will initially be a pilot project beginning in 2016 and will focus exclusively on orphan medicines, but the two Health Ministers have not ruled out a future expansion to other pharmaceutical products.

The idea is that, by presenting a larger patient pool to a pharmaceutical company, they will be able to negotiate a better price. The Dutch-Belgian plans go beyond ‘collective bargaining’ and in time the two countries will exchange information, share registries and coordinate evaluation methods. The aim is to decide together, which innovative drugs come to market and how the health systems in both countries can be best prepared for them.

Both Belgium and the Netherlands faced a very high price for Gilead’s hepatitis C drug but were able to negotiate lower prices. Although these negotiations were officially done individually, it is believed that they were sharing information throughout these negotiations, which may be a reason that they foresee success in this partnership.

The partnership agreement was made during the informal Council of Health Ministers in Riga and other Health Ministers displayed their interest in the programme. The Health Ministers from Belgium and the Netherlands have expressed their hope that other countries will join the initiative after the pilot project.

This pilot project could prove significant in future pharmaceutical procurement in the EU if this project succeeds in reducing prices and if other Member States become interested in creating a wider pool for procurement. It is also worth noting that the Netherlands will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2016 and Health Minister Edith Schippers has said that their Presidency will focus on European cooperation on drug prices and bringing innovative medicines to the EU market faster, and at affordable prices.

This is part of the EHC Quarterly Health Policy Update 2015-1.