Promoting Access to Innovative Anticancer Medicines: A Review of Drug Price and National Reimbursement Negotiation in China

Inquiry. 2023 Jan-Dec:60:469580231170729. doi: 10.1177/00469580231170729.


Providing universal access to high-cost medications like anticancer drugs is not an easy feat. Although basic medical insurance has covered over 95% of China's population since 2012, reimbursement for high-priced medicines is limited. In 2015, the Chinese government proposed establishing an open and transparent price negotiation mechanism for some patented and expensive drugs, where oncology was among the prioritized areas. In 2016, three drugs (gefitinib, icotinib, and tenofovir disoprox) underwent negotiation with the government, eventually reducing their prices by over 50% so that they could be prioritized during reimbursement processes. Focusing on anticancer medicines, this study comprehensively summarizes the progress in drug price and national reimbursement negotiation in China. Furthermore, we investigated the changes and development regarding negotiated anticancer medicines from quantity negotiated, classification, indication coverage, utilization, and procurement spending. Our findings could provide a reference for follow-up negotiations and reimbursement policies for high-value anticancer medications in other countries. From 2016 to 2021, 82 anticancer medicines were newly incorporated into the national reimbursement drug list (NRDL) via 6 rounds of negotiation. The majority of these were innovative pharmaceutics (ie, protein kinase inhibitors (28) and monoclonal antibodies (13)). Drug pricing and national reimbursement negotiation led to a marked decrease in prices and a sharp increase in the utilization of negotiated anticancer medicines. Following negotiations, the defined daily doses (DDDs) of innovative anticancer medicines experienced remarkable growth. Their proportion in total anticancer drugs DDDs also increased from 3.4% in 2014 to 20.9% in 2019. However, although drug prices decreased substantially after the negotiations, insurance spending still showed an upward trend owing to the significant increase in utilization. This calls for the government to carefully monitor the rational use of these expensive medicines and explore innovative payment models.

Keywords: China; National Health Programs; antineoplastic agents; drug costs; health policy; insurance coverage; negotiating; neoplasms/drug therapy.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • China
  • Drug Costs
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Negotiating*


  • Antineoplastic Agents