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Aiming for a #HealthyEU – Countdown to European Elections – 8 weeks to go


Supporting Sustainable Healthcare Systems:

Following the launch of its digital media campaign calling for an integrated life sciences strategy in the EU, EFPIA expands on the topic of health and growth for Europe in a dedicated blog series. This week, EFPIA Chief Economist Dr. Richard Torbett writes on sustainable financing in healthcare systems.

Last week Richard Bergstrom kicked off our blog series on health & growth in Europe with a discussion of the need to reduce inequalities. The big question, of course, is how do we provide greater access to healthcare – especially to the poorest in Europe – without breaking the bank. We have seen how recent austerity measures have focused on health systems, sometimes with significant consequences for patients. Looking forward, an aging population is going to mean that health systems will be even more under the spotlight. Retaining today’s standard of care, let alone improving it, is beginning to sound like a tall order. We need new thinking and new solutions to ensure the financing of healthcare is sustainable into the future. Here are three ideas:

1. Spend smart not (necessarily) more. It is not always all about spending more money. Ensuring that decisions are based on good information about what adds value is a key factor and, in medicines, we are already making good progress on developing value-based systems through health technology assessment. Improvements can, of course, be made. For instance, if we had greater alignment between national authorities on scientific advice, methodology and choice of comparator treatments it would immediately strip out wasteful duplication. Beyond medicines, it is important that other aspects of healthcare expenditure also start to take value assessment more seriously. And when it comes to decisions on healthcare procurement, integrated care models that break down traditional budget silos are seen by the best performing systems as the way forward.

2. Reform through partnerships. Healthcare systems are notoriously complex. Top-down approaches to change management rarely work as intended. The most effective systems encourage collaboration and partnership between public and private sectors, service providers, patients and others. This approach needs to be encouraged.

3. Be realistic about what spend is needed. My recent blog on the European Semester made this point in more detail. In essence, yes, we need to do everything we can to ensure public money is spent in a responsible way. But, given that the population will age in the coming decades, it is inevitable that spending on healthcare will rise to some extent. Current ways of thinking about sustainability are based on arbitrary thresholds. Europe should not be too quick to throw away our welfare system when we need it most, especially at a time when the rest of the world is finally copying European-style universal healthcare coverage.

Bottom line is: If we want sustainable healthcare, we need to ensure the whole system rewards good value, that we have long lasting, productive partnerships – and we mustn’t panic! EFPIA’s #HealthyEU campaign aims put these issues on the agenda.

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EFPIA Chief Economist

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