Singapore to add 33 expensive cancer drugs to list of subsidised high-cost drugs

The ministry's decision to add these drugs to the list comes as part of its latest review of cancer treatment in Singapore.
The ministry's decision to add these drugs to the list comes as part of its latest review of cancer treatment in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - In a year, Singapore will add 33 high-cost cancer drugs to the Medication Assistance Fund (MAF), which subsidises expensive drugs that have been deemed clinically necessary.

This means people who have trouble paying for such drugs could get them at up to 75 per cent off, depending on their per capita household income.

There are currently only six cancer drugs on this list.

"Most patented cancer drugs are not subsidised today as they are not cost-effective at current prices," said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in response to queries from The Straits Times.

It added that another 22 cancer drugs will be added to the Standard Drug List (SDL), which subsidises cheaper medications. This makes for a total of 70 cancer drugs on the SDL and 39 on the MAF by September next year.

The ministry's decision to add these drugs to the list comes as part of its latest review of cancer treatment in Singapore.

This review will see changes to claim limits under MediShield Life, with more cancer treatments subsidised even as MOH works to negotiate lower prices for cancer drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies typically charge Singapore more for cancer drugs as compared to other developed countries such as South Korea and Australia.

For instance, Singapore pays more for tyrosine kinase inhibitors for treating lung, liver and thyroid cancer, as well as anti-androgens for treating prostate cancer.

These can cost 1.5 to two times what other countries pay, the ministry said.

The ministry has attributed this cost difference to the $3,000 claim limit that is applied to all types of cancer drugs. Knowing that treatment will be covered by the national health insurance programme up to this limit gives pharmaceutical companies little or no reason to lower their prices.

With the changes, 90 per cent of subsidised cancer patients will be able to have their outpatient treatments fully paid by insurance and MediSave - up from 70 per cent today.

MOH said its negotiations with drug manufacturers are ongoing and have covered about two-thirds of cancer drug treatments so far.

"Following continued value-based pricing negotiations, we have narrowed the price gap with overseas reference countries, and in some instances secured even more competitive drug prices."