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Japan’s welfare ministry drafting bill to limit people on dole to generic drugs

JIJI

The welfare ministry will attempt to revise the public assistance law to stipulate that welfare recipients must use only generic drugs in principle unless their doctors object, ministry sources said Saturday.

By forcing more active use of generic medicines, which are cheaper than brand-name drugs, the ministry aims to hold down the rise in medical expenses being driven by aging welfare recipients, the sources said.

The ministry will submit a bill to the Diet to revise the law with an eye to putting it into effect as early as October.

Medical assistance for people on welfare is fully financed by public funds. Of the approximately ¥3.7 trillion in overall welfare expenses tallied in fiscal 2015, medical aid accounted for the largest share, at ¥1.8 trillion.

To curb these costs, the ministry has set a goal of boosting the share of generic drugs in all medicines used by welfare recipients to 80 percent or more by the end of fiscal 2018.

The current law only calls for efforts to promote the use of generic drugs, stating that their use by welfare recipients should be “encouraged as much as possible.”

Pharmacists recommend generics but dispense pioneer medicines if requested. The share of generic medicines provided to people on welfare stood at 69.3 percent in 2016.

By inserting a clear provision that states welfare recipients should use only generic drugs, in principle, the ministry hopes to make sure that generics are dispensed to them regardless of their wishes, the sources said.

If the amendment passes, the ministry plans to notify municipal welfare offices and pharmacies of the details. The change, however, may draw fire from those on welfare.

Pharmacists encourage welfare recipients to use generic drugs, and caseworkers also offer such guidance. But in some cases, welfare recipients were given brand-name drugs even if their doctors allowed them to use generics. This was done 67.2 percent of the time because welfare recipients requested it, a Finance Ministry document says.