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Belgium - New Federal Government Announces Tough Budgetary Environment but also Support for Life Sciences Industry

  • 01/10/2020
  • Articles

The newly formed Belgian federal government has identified healthcare as its highest priority (see, attached report of the government’s architects, Messrs. De Croo and Magnette – Dutch and French versions – the Report). This focus is exemplified in a wide range of measures that involve tackling the Covid-19 crisis and preparing for new similar epidemics. It also gives rise to significant additional budgetary spending of EUR 1.2 billion on healthcare staff and mental healthcare (these are outlays that have actually already been earmarked in Parliament and in an industry agreement with union representatives) and a special budget line for Covid-19 related matters.
In addition, the overall healthcare budget will be allowed to increase in real terms by 2.5% per year. However, this rate of growth will not necessarily apply to all components of the healthcare budget. Some parts, including that covering medicines, will remain “stable” over a number of years (Report, Dutch version, p. 11). In the same vein, the “excessive consumption of care and medicines” will be tackled (Report, p. 10) and specific measures will seek to reduce prescriptions of antibiotics, antidepressants and antacids (Report, p. 13).
In order to contain the medicines budget, the Report relies on established recipes such as international cooperation (Beneluxa cooperation and joint procurement mechanisms at the European level); the “efficient use” of medicines; a medicines policy that reflects the “needs of citizens” and is in the interest of public health; and an increased market share of inexpensive medicines and biosimilars (Report, p. 13). The Report also promises a “thorough reform” of pricing and reimbursement procedures and managed entry agreements (Report, p. 13).
While the Report points to a tough budgetary environment for pharmaceuticals, it also indicates a willingness of the government to support the life sciences industry and create a “health and biotech valley” that is conducive to research and development, clinical trials and local production (Report, p. 13). On the point of local manufacturing, the Report echoes a concern voiced across Europe that the production of strategic medicines and active substances should occur locally (see e.g., Van Bael & Bellis Life Sciences News Alert of 25 September 2020). Interestingly, the government promises to maintain the channels of communication which the previous government had established and will seek to conclude a new agreement with the pharmaceutical sector defining mutual rights and obligations.      


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