Expensive branded medicines prescribed by doctors are driving up the cost of healthcare for insurers and employers, experts have said.
UAE ranked the top three in a study of 50 countries by the British medical firm Medbelle that measured the difference in the cost of 13 essential medicines.
Abu Dhabi begins dispensing "generic" prescription medicines to provide better value for money and medics and insurers told the national policy should be pursued more widely.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi have mandatory private medical insurance for all residents. That means prescription medicine is often fully covered, with some basic packages requiring patients to pay about 20 percent.
But high costs borne by insurance firms raise premiums and mean companies are charged more per employee.
The findings released by Medbelle showed extreme price variations worldwide for drugs to treat heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, anxiety disorders, and erectile dysfunction.
“Patients are covered by insurance but for medicines for heart failure, severe critical coronary diseases or hypertension, the high price could limit access of a patient,” said Dr. Walid Shaker, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi.
“The regulatory licensing in countries like UAE is very stringent in order to maintain quality,” he said.
“Some groups of medicines require to be licensed and go for testing periodically so the cost can go up.”
The global study factored in the average price of well-known pharmaceutical brands and generic versions regardless of whether the medicines were covered by the country’s healthcare system or paid by the patient.
But insurers said doctors prescribing generic alternatives would reduce healthcare costs in the UAE.
The Department of Health in Abu Dhabi last year told healthcare facilities to dispense generic versions instead of well-known brands aiming to ease the burden on residents.
The government said it was keen “to provide patients with better value for money.”
The Ministry of Health has over the years slashed the prices of medicines to make healthcare affordable to all.