Procurement office: Tender for cancer drug was mismanaged

The supreme procurement office finds that by dividing one big tender into two smaller ones, a state health insurer violated the rules of procurement.

(Source: SME)

This March, the state health insurer Všeobecná Zdravotná Poisťvňa (VšZP) allegedly needed to more rapidly procure the Imbruvica drug for the treatment of chronic leukaemia and thus attempted to bypass the stricter rules for public procurement.

VšZP at first wished to procure the medicine more cheaply, and thus planned to announce a public tender, the Sme daily wrote on October 24.

Then they discovered that the planned tender would be huge, last longer and have stricter rules of procurement. Their solution, which was approved by the Health Ministry led by Smer nominee, Tomáš Drucker, was to split it into two smaller tenders which, however, deprived the unsuccessful bidders of the chance to appeal the ruling.

Now, the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO) has claimed that the state health insurer violated the law. The ÚVO's decision is not yet final, as it is waiting for VšZP's reaction which will then be included in the final verdict.

The insurer faces a fine of €20,000, but argues that if it had stuck to the rules of a bigger tender, it could have run out of supplies of the vital drug, Sme wrote.

Arguments and counter-arguments

This claim is disputed both by the ÚVO – as Imbruvica had already been procured in 2016 and 2015, and the insurer therefore had to know how big a supply it needed – and by an expert, lawyer and doctor Peter Kováč. Kováč opined for Sme that time pressure as an argument for splitting the tender is questionable, as VšZP had written earlier that it would buy the medicament fluidly, based on orders placed by health-care facilities. The hasty tenders seem rather to have been a pretence in order to avoid the strict rules.

The procurement office also pointed out that for both tenders, there were basically three bidders, Med-art, Unipharma and Medical Group which is already known from the case of an overpriced CT device for Piešťany hospital. The first tender was won by Med-art and the second one by Unipharma. Three bidders for both competitions was another reason not to split the original tender, the ÚVO argued for the daily.

“Regardless of any internal command or recommendation – in this case by the Health Ministry – the correct application of the law in public procurement is always crucial,” ÚVO spokesperson, Ján Mažgút, told Sme back in June.

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