Mike Leidig
Phone: +43-1-81140-319
Wed, 15.01.2003
pte20030115042 Health/Medicine, Politics/Law
Pressbox Pressbox
Software aids doctors in comparing prices
Austria's state health insurance company is offering a 5,500-euro allowance

Vienna, Austria (pte042/15.01.2003/20:01) - Austria's financially troubled state health insurance company is offering a 5,500-euro allowance to doctors if they invest it in computer equipment to run new software capable of working out the cheapest option on prescription medicines. The Vienna branch of the Austrian health insurance company the Wiener Gebietskrankenkassen has made the offer to all doctors based in the Austrian capital. The new software aids doctors in comparing prices for medication and helps them to choose the cheapest option.

Currently medical costs including the money for medication, doctors and hospitals are provided by state health insurance companies known as Krankenkassen, which provide health insurance coverage for their members. Which Krankenkassen a person is covered by is selected by their job and where they live, so that there are major regional Krankenkassen like the one for the capital Vienna or in the region of Salzburg, as well as others that are for groups of workers like the self employed or the freelance workers.

The Krankenkassen also cover the majority share of costs for any medication prescribed by doctors, while patients pay a small fixed amount for any prescription themselves. The revelation that some Krankenkassen are on the verge of bankruptcy has prompted a closer look at possible savings, and cutting back on the costs for medication is one controversial way to finance the troubled system

In return for the 5,500-euro allowance, doctors are expected to reduce costs for prescribed medication by at least the same amount. Failure to do so will mean the doctors have to pay back the allowance.

The move has been criticised by many doctors, and in a leader article in the Austrian business daily Der Standard the move was branded an "immoral decision taken at the expense of patients". It also quoted doctors as complaining the software would limit their options on offering the choice of innovative new medicines to patients.

But a spokesman for the Wiener Gebietskrankenkassen, Jan Pazourek, told journalists: "We need to cut back on expenditure for medication and therefore we agreed on this deal with the Austrian Chamber of Medical Doctors. The volume of medication that Vienna doctors prescribe is the largest in the entire country and we needed to take some action."

In Austria every person who visits a doctor needs to take a document from their health insurer, known as a Krankenschein, which guarantees them treatment for a three-month period. All visits to the doctor and prescriptions are listed on the Krankenschein allowing claims to be made against the health insurer. Vienna doctors are currently prescribing an average of 4.5 packages of medication per Krankenschein, while the Austrian average is 3.5 packages.

Mr Pazourek said: "With the 5,500-euro allowance we wanted to make doctors install and actually use the computer software programme 'Economy Tool' which lists prices for all medication in one category and gives possibly cheaper options."

But he added that doctors will not be banned from prescribing the latest and therefore often more expensive medication. "We are opting for reducing the cost for medication that is prescribed very frequently, such as influenza medication. But we do not want to save money by cutting back on expenditures on new, innovative medication that has naturally higher costs." Wiener Gebietskrankenkassen are currently spending around 425 million euros on medication and up to know 127 doctors have registered with the scheme.

Submitter: pressetext.austria
Contact: Mike Leidig
Phone: +43-1-81140-319