Impact of European Pharmaceutical Price Regulation on Generic Price Competition

A Review


Although economic theory indicates that it should not be necessary to intervene in the generic drug market through price regulation, most EU countries intervene in this market, both by regulating the maximum sale price of generics (price cap) and by setting the maximum reimbursement rate, especially by means of reference pricing systems.

We analyse current knowledge of the impact of direct price-cap regulation of generic drugs and the implementation of systems regulating the reimbursement rate, particularly through reference pricing and similar tools, on dynamic price competition between generic competitors in Europe.

A literature search was carried out in the EconLit and PubMed databases, and on Google Scholar. The search included papers published in English or Spanish between January 2000 and July 2009. Inclusion criteria included that studies had to present empirical results of a quantitative nature for EU countries of the impact of price capping and/or regulation of the reimbursement rate (reference pricing or similar systems) on price dynamics, corresponding to pharmacy sales, in the generic drug market.

The available evidence indicates that price-cap regulation leads to a levelling off of generic prices at a higher level than would occur in the absence of this regulation. Reference pricing systems cause an obvious and almost compulsory reduction in the consumer price of all pharmaceuticals subject to this system, to a varying degree in different countries and periods, the reduction being greater for originator-branded drugs than for generics. In several countries with a reference pricing system, it was observed that generics with a consumer price lower than the reference price do not undergo price reductions until the reference price is reduced, even when there are other lower-priced generics on the market (absence of price competition below the reference price). Beyond the price reduction forced by the price-cap and/or reference pricing regulation itself, the entry of new generic competitors is useful for lowering the real transaction price of purchases made by pharmacies (dynamic price competition at ex-factory level), although this effect is weaker or non-significant for official ex-factory prices and consumer prices in some countries. When maximum reimbursement systems such as reference pricing or similar types are applied, pharmacies are seen to receive large discounts on the price they pay for the pharmaceuticals, although these discounts are not transferred to the consumer price. The percentage discount offered to pharmacies in a country that uses a price-cap system combined with reference pricing is positively and significantly related to the number of generic competitors in the market for the pharmaceutical (dynamic price competition at ex-factory level).

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The author gratefully acknowledges Iván Moreno’s help and support in conducting the systematic literature search and preparing table I.

Financial support is acknowledged from the Catalan Competition Authority (ACCO) and the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science under grant SEJ2007-66133. The author also benefited from support by an unrestricted educational grant from the Merck Company Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck & Co. Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ, USA. The author declares that the funding sources did not play any role in the development of the article.

The author has no financial or other conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Puig-Junoy, J. Impact of European Pharmaceutical Price Regulation on Generic Price Competition. Pharmacoeconomics 28, 649–663 (2010).

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  • Reference Price
  • Price Competition
  • Price Regulation
  • Reimbursement Rate
  • Reference Price System