Japan's health ministry moves to revamp OTC drug rules to cut costs

Japan's health ministry proposes to take the impetus for making a prescription drug available over the counter (OTC) out of the hands of drugmakers and into those of consumers and health insurers.

The new policy, which could be in force by the end of this year, would focus on prescription drugs that treat some of the most common symptoms, such as eye drops and allergy treatments. In Japan, only 10% of medicines are OTC, compared with 20% in Europe and the United States.

Japan regulations now require a drugmaker to apply to be allowed to sell drugs OTC that were previously available on a prescription basis only. Pharmas currently file fewer than 10 applications a year in Japan because profit margins for OTCs are smaller, the newspaper Nikkei reported.

Insurers have led the effort to get more prescriptions made available OTC as a way to cut their own expenses. One association estimated 6 commonly prescribed drugs alone would save insurers $1.25 billion a year if they were available OTC.

- here's the story from Nikkei