DOH shuns big pharma firms’ warning vs price cuts
MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has said the government was determined to cut prices of over a hundred medicines by more than 50 percent, despite warnings from a group of pharmaceutical companies that such a move would be more detrimental than beneficial to the public.
Duque earlier this week told reporters the Department of Health (DOH) was “fighting for the best interest of the Filipinos” in setting a price cap on 122 medicines used to treat chronic ailments.
It has been a decade since the list of only five medicines covered by the maximum drug retail price (MDRP) was updated. The DOH plans to add 122 more to the current list, Duque said without specifying what those medicines were.
“The first time we did the [MDRP] in 2009 I had [come under] the same pressure. But we did it. After 10 years, the list has never grown,” Duque said. “What we are fighting for is for the best interest of Filipinos,” he said.
MDRP won’t benefit poor
After the DOH last month sent to Malacañang its list of medicines to be included in the proposed MDRP, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) warned that the plan would only hurt patients because manufacturers would supposedly be forced to reconsider introducing new medicines or may even pull out existing products from the country.
PHAP, which includes 42 local and global pharmaceutical companies, earlier suggested to Duque that instead of a price cap, they would just voluntarily cut the costs of their medicines, claiming that the MDRP wouldn’t benefit poor families.
The health chief, however, thumbed down PHAP’s offer as the group admitted that it couldn’t guarantee that this would result in lower prices over the counter. This is due to the fact that PHAP has no control over how much pharmacies would mark up their products, he said.
Duque expressed concern over the growing medical expenses for those stricken by serious ailments, citing cancer patients who shell out about P2 million in annual treatment, including medicines. He said even if a worker earned P50,000 monthly, he could easily slip below the poverty line due to the high treatment costs.
“They have always assailed [the implementation of the MDRP] even in 2009. What else is new? What is important for us is to be able to bring down the cost of very expensive quality drugs for the sake of our Filipino patients,” he said.
In 2009, PHAP also volunteered to cut the prices of its medicines rather than have the MDRP form part of the cheaper medicines law. It argued then that the MDRP would just eat into their profits without benefiting poor patients.
Back then, the MDRP only included Amlodipine (antihypertensive), Atorvastatin (anticholesterol), Azithromycin (antibiotic), and Cytarabine and Doxorubicin (anticancer).
Duque said Malacañang was still studying the DOH proposal to ensure that there were “no conflicting laws that may prove to be problematic in the future once we actually implement the MDRP.”
Under the DOH plan, the prices of the 122 medicines for such ailments as hypertension, diabetes and cancer are expected to be slashed by as much as 56 percent.
Republic Act No. 9502, or the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008, allows the President, upon the recommendation of the health secretary, to set a maximum retail price for “any or all drugs and medicines” used to treat chronic illnesses and life-threatening conditions or to prevent diseases.
Pharmaceutical companies could question the MDRP only in the Supreme Court, which is solely authorized by the law to issue a temporary restraining order or injunction “that will prevent the immediate execution of the exercise of this power of the President of the Philippines.”
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