The impact of pharmaceutical policy measures: a structural-break approach

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Pharmaceutical spending in many other countries has had a steep increase in the last decade. The Portuguese Government has adopted several measures to reduce pharmaceutical expenditure growth, ranging from increased co-payments to price decreases determined administratively. Promotion of generic consumption has also ranked high in political priorities. We assess the overall impact of the several policy measures on total pharmaceutical spending, using monthly data over the period January 1995 – August 2008. Endogenous structural breaks (time-series) methods were employed. Our findings suggest that policy measures aimed at controlling pharmaceutical expenditure have been, in general, unsuccessful. Two breaks were identified. Both coincide with administratively determined price decreases. Measures aimed at increasing competition in the market had no visible effect on the dynamics of Government spending in pharmaceutical products. In particular, the introduction of reference pricing had only a transitory effect of less than one year, with historical growth resuming quickly. The consequence of it is a transfer of financial burden from the Government to the patients, with no apparent effect on the dynamics of pharmaceutical spending. This strongly suggests that pharmaceutical companies have been able to adjust to policy measures, in order to sustain their sales. It remains a challenge for the future to identify firms’ strategies that supported continued growth of sales, despite the several policy measures adopted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-450
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • Pharmaceutical expenditures
  • Structural breaks
  • Pharmaceutical policies
  • Portugal


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