Archive for July, 2009

Gov’t urged to import key medicines to lower prices

Posted on July 30, 2009. Filed under: News |

By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
Published in Manila Bulletin on July 26, 2009, 3:21pm

The government is urged to undertake substantial importation of patented and off-patent branded essential medicines to provide short-term but immediate and effective solution to bring down prices of medicines.

This was proposed by the Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-Kayang Presyo (AGAP) Coalition saying that the passage of Republic Act 9502 or the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008, a big number of essential medicines or medicines for life-threatening illnesses that are either patented or off-patent branded medicines still maintain astronomical prices. The high prices of these medicines are a big impediment to the therapeutic and health needs of millions of Filipinos.

“In order to bring down the prices of the patented and off-patent branded medicines for life-threatening illnesses, competition must be introduced and allowed to flourish. And for competition to happen, a substantial parallel importation of patented essential medicines and importation of off-patent branded essential medicines must be done to get the imported medicinal products in the market,” said Angelito Mendoza, convenor of AGAP Coalition.

Mendoza said that once a sizeable supply of affordably priced patented essential medicines and off-patent branded ones shall be made immediately accessible to the public, the ensuing fierce competition between the imported medicines and its local counterparts would further drive the prices down of both to the great advantage of public health.

“In this light, the government must take the lead to make importation of patented and off-patent essential medicines happen soonest,” Mendoza said.

AGAP noted the efforts to bring down prices by implementing RA 9502 via the DoH endorsed Maximum Retail Price of 22 medicines or the Malacañang-initiated voluntary compliance from pharma firms to reduce prices of the listed medicines by 50%.

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Don’t sell out

Posted on July 24, 2009. Filed under: News |

POLICY PEEK
By Ernesto F. Herrera
Published on The Manila Times, July 21, 2009

The senators are right. The government is taking too long to issue the order setting the maximum retail price for most-prescribed drugs as provided in the Cheaper Medicine Law passed by Congress one year ago. After a year, shouldn’t cheaper medicines be available in drugstores by now?

I can’t understand why a President so grossly unpopular would beat about the bush before fully enforcing a law that would certainly help her gain some much needed public approval.

Also, why would she favor voluntary compliance by pharmaceutical firms instead of imposing a maximum retail price on medicines as provided in the law? This is precisely what Mar Roxas is asking Malacañang.

If President Arroyo had signed the Executive Order imposing the price ceiling on at least 22 most-prescribed medicines on June 16, what could drug companies do but comply?

Some of the drugs whose prices will be halved under the EO are the anti-hypertensive Norvasc (to P22.50 from the present P44.50), anti-diabetic Diamicron (to P7.35 from P14.75), and antibiotic Augmentin suspension 60 ml (to P179.50 from P359). These are drugs that even middle class families and not just the poor can hardly afford.

And why should the government subscribe to a list coming from drug companies themselves anyway? As Sen. Loren Legarda rightly pointed out, the government should not allow the drug companies to interpret the law for us, because they would do so in their own favor.

Most Filipinos can’t afford these quality medicines like Norvasc or Augmentin. They would have to go without electricity or food in order to buy them. A lot of them would take less than what is prescribed or would leave their doctor’s office with the prescription but later buy a cheaper, herbal alternative.

For the elderly, maintenance meds for chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol are too expensive even with their senior citizens discounts.

There have already been public hearings in Congress when the Cheaper Medicines Law was being drafted. No need to consult Big Pharma again.

Set a maximum price and tell these drug companies they cannot anymore price their products as high as they want to!

If prescription drugs were like ordinary consumer goods, I would have a different argument on price controls. But drugs are different. People depend on them for their health. People depend on them for their lives. We need some checks and balances on this industry.

Drug companies have been doing pretty much what they want to for years. It’s time government tells them they can’t do that anymore.

Parallel importation

The “Ayos na Gamot Abot Kayang Presyo” (AGAP) coalition said in a statement that both the Maximum Retail Price and voluntary compliance schemes are mere palliative solutions.

“Due to their very limited coverage to 21 medicine, the benefits would be restricted to a few who take these medicine listed under Maximum Drug Retail Price or subjected under voluntary compliance,” AGAP convenor Angelito Mendoza said.

For the AGAP, only a substantial parallel importation of patented essential medicine and importation of off-patent branded essential medicine would work in bringing down drug prices.

“This pharma industry’s development strategy is what the governments of India, Pakistan and Thailand pursued, enabling these countries to be self-reliant for their affordable and quality medicine requirements,” said Mendoza.

This is already being done by the state-run Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) and Botika ng Bayan outlets but like AGAP said we need substantial parallel importation.

R.A. 9502 has a provision that requires all pharmacies to carry certain medicines imported by the government via the PITC. The law is supposed to reinforce the PITC’s parallel importation scheme, by allowing any entity to import patented medicines sold cheaper in other countries.

The Cheaper Medicines Law relaxes existing patent rules by declaring that parallel importation does not violate trademarks, as long as the medicines brought in are determined to be genuine counterparts produced in other countries.

Attention Mayor Lim of Manila

Pilar Hidalgo Lim Street is one of the last few leafy streets in Malate. It is lined up on both sides by acacia and mahogany trees as well as other plants and shrubs, which makes it a joy to walk through on a hot and humid day. It is precisely for this reason that Mayor Alfredo Lim of Manila should ban all these buses and jeepneys that park along Pilar Hidalgo Lim Street, especially between the corner of Remedios and Nakpil. These buses and jeepneys use Pilar Hidalgo Lim as a terminal and park along the street with their engines idling.

I don’t know if Mayor Lim is aware of this. I don’t know if these buses and jeepneys have the consent of the traffic bureau or the police or if they have the proper licenses or are operating illegally (colorum).

But it certainly isn’t right for them to use Pilar Hidalgo Lim as their private parking space and terminal much to the detriment of pedestrians, residents and the street itself. They are destroying the street and polluting the environment and Mayor Lim should do something about them.

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Senators press GMA on cheaper drugs’ EO

Posted on July 21, 2009. Filed under: News |

By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) Updated July 19, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Senators Manuel Roxas II and Francis Escudero are pressing Malacañang to finally come up with maximum retail prices (MRP) on medicine as stated in the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicine Act of 2008.

In separate statements, Roxas and Escudero said the people were the ones being disadvantaged for every delay in the implementation of the law.

“Where is the list of the essential medicine that pharmaceutical companies volunteered to sell at lower prices to skirt a presidential directive on price ceilings on medicine?” Roxas asked.

He was reacting to a Palace pronouncement that it was giving drug firms a chance to lower prices on their own or President Arroyo would sign the executive order on MRP for various drugs.

“Where is the list of medicine the people can buy at affordable prices in drug stores?” he added.

Roxas said the deadline for voluntary compliance by pharmaceutical companies with the Cheaper Medicine Law expired yesterday.

Roxas hit the apparent failure of the voluntary compliance deal worked out by Mrs. Arroyo with pharmaceutical companies.

Under that deal, pharmaceutical firms were supposed to submit by yesterday a list of medicine they volunteer to be sold at slashed prices.

But latest reports from Malacañang showed that the pharmaceutical companies did not even include any of the 22 drugs that the health department sought to be placed under price ceilings in the list that volunteered to sell at lower prices.

Roxas has criticized Mrs. Arroyo for favoring voluntary compliance with the Cheaper Medicine Law instead of imposing an MRP.

An EO imposing the price ceiling has been awaiting Mrs. Arroyo’s signature since June 16.

Some of the drugs whose prices will be halved under the EO are the anti-hypertensive Norvasc (to P22.50 from the present P44.50), anti-diabetic Diamicron (P7.35 from P14.75), and the antibiotic Augmentin suspension 60 ml (P179.50 from P359), among others.

Some sectors say these prices are still high as compared to prices in India and that the Arroyo administration is not really serious in bringing down drug prices.

Escudero, for his part, said the delay in the implementation of the maximum ceiling on retail prices of essential medicine would give drug firms a window to rake in profits, which they might have lost if MRP had earlier been imposed by the government.

“The P500 million in discounts allegedly offered by a drug firm may be peanuts compared to the profits earned by the pharmaceutical companies because of the delay in the issuance of the executive order,” he said.

Escudero said this could be the reason why the administration flip-flopped on price control when the law clearly said a maximum ceiling must be imposed on 22 essential medicine.

He said the government’s meeting with officials of drug firms was improper and uncalled for since the law would have to be implemented “whether they like it or not.”

“The issuance of this executive order could have given immediate relief to many of our families who are burdened by health care costs, especially the high cost of essential medicine,” he said.

Escudero said it was lamentable that the President did not think it was urgent enough to sign the executive order before leaving for Egypt.

“To speak about unity among the non-aligned is well and good. But when your country is wracked by three-front rebellion and a widening gap between rich and poor, it smacks of hypocrisy and delusion to the highest degree. This highlights the kind of priorities this administration has and explains the people’s increasing dissatisfaction with her,” he said.

According to a fact sheet of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the prices of drugs in the country are among the highest in Asia.

A survey of ASEAN countries shows that retail prices of medicine in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand are 40 to 70 percent lower than in the Philippines.

Medicine list submitted

Meanwhile, Malacañang gave assurance that President Arroyo will always keep the welfare of consumers in mind when she makes her decision on the issue of bringing down the prices of medicine next week.

Deputy presidential spokesman Lorelei Fajardo, in an interview over Radyo ng Bayan, said the drug companies have submitted their list of medicine that would be covered by a voluntary price reduction yesterday, the deadline they set for this purpose.

However, she said the announcement about the details of what were submitted yesterday would come out tomorrow through Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Fajardo said the government continues to expect the drug companies to cooperate with the efforts of the government to make medicine more affordable to the masses and comply with what is provided for under the Cheaper Medicine Law.

Earlier reports have indicated that the lists submitted by some drug firms did not match what was provided for by the DOH as agreed upon during a meeting between the President and their executives last June 8.

Fajardo said the drug companies would not be allowed to dictate on the government and circumvent the law, which was passed a little over a year ago.

“If this (voluntary compliance) will be acceptable, then fine and good because this (price reduction) will be implemented as soon as possible,” she said.

“But if not, the President will issue the executive order for the reduction in the prices of the 22 medicine,” she added.

Malacañang has emphasized that the President wanted to avoid issuing the executive order placing a price ceiling on certain types of medicine as much as possible.

During the meeting between the President and the drug firms’ executives, Mrs. Arroyo agreed to give the companies 10 days to voluntarily comply with the law by submitting their list of drugs that would enjoy at least a 50 percent reduction in price.

It is only if the President is unsatisfied with the proposals of the firms that she would issue the EO placing price ceilings on these drugs.

The Palace said Mrs. Arroyo agreed to meet with the executives as part of her duty to listen to the concerns and interests of legitimate businesses in the country.

70% discount

In a related development, Duque has reported that aside from the impending 50 percent cut in prices provided under the Cheaper Medicine Law, senior citizens are still entitled to another 20 percent discount.

“The senior citizens discount is covered by a different law, so the 50 percent reduction in prices of essential medicine under maximum drug retail price should be a separate benefit,” he said.

Duque, however, said the issue of giving a total of 70 percent reduction in prices of essential drugs for senior citizens would have to be resolved by legal experts in government and would be clarified in an executive order of President Arroyo to be issued soon.

In a related development, a coalition advocating for the lowering of drug prices in the country has expressed doubt that the MRP or voluntary compliance can pull down prices of essential drugs.

In a statement, the Ayos na Gamot Abot Kayang Presyo (AGAP) coalition said boththe MRP and voluntary compliance schemes are mere palliative solutions.

“Due to their very limited coverage to 21 medicine, the benefits would be restricted to a few who take these medicine listed under Maximum Drug Retail Price or subjected under voluntary compliance,” AGAP convenor Angelito Mendoza said.

Mendoza said high prices of drugs are perpetuated through patents that insulate patented medicine from competition, thus enabling the patent holder pharmaceutical firms to freely impose exorbitant prices and secure the market for their products.

“These efforts are laudable, well-meaning and sincere attempt to bring down the prices of medicine in the country. However, in order to bring down the prices of the patented and off-patent branded medicine for life-threatening illnesses, competition must be introduced and allowed to flourish,” Mendoza said.

A substantial parallel importation of patented essential medicine and importation of off-patent branded essential medicine must be allowed to get the imported medicinal products in the market, he said.

He said a sizeable supply of affordably priced patented essential medicine and off-patent branded ones would lead to fierce competition between the imported medicine and their local counterparts.

This would further drive down the prices of both to the great advantage of public health, he added.

Aside from the short-term solution of making available from importation cheaper yet quality essential medicine in the market, Mendoza said a long-term solution to sustain competition and ensure stability of supply and prices of essential medicine must also be considered.

“This pharma industry’s development strategy is what the governments of India, Pakistan and Thailand pursued, enabling these countries to be self-reliant for their affordable and quality medicine requirements,” he said. – With Mayen Jaymalin and Marvin Sy

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‘Use gov’t fund to import drugs’

Posted on July 21, 2009. Filed under: News |

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:01:00 07/19/2009

Filed Under: Medicines, Laws, Government

MANILA, Philippines—Health advocates have called on the government to use the economic stimulus fund earmarked for public services to import essential medicines immediately, saying that this was a crucial part of public service.

According to the Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-kayang Presyo (Agap) Coalition, the government must take the lead in the importation of essential medicines.

“In the same way that billions in public funds are appropriated and spent to import rice and subsidize local palay prices annually to ensure the stable supply and price of rice, the same treatment must be accorded to finance the importation of essential medicines,” Agap said.

The coalition groups 17 sectoral associations like the Fair Trade Alliance, Association of Barangay Health Workers, Federation of Philippine Industries, and Citizens Alliance for Consumer Power.

Agap also includes influential individuals such as incumbent and former senators, doctors and business leaders.

According to Agap, current proposals to set maximum retail prices (MRP) for 22 essential medicines or for pharmaceutical firms to voluntarily reduce the prices of these drugs by half were merely palliative measures.

“Due to their very limited coverage to 22 medicines, the benefits would be restricted to the few who take these medicines,” the group said.

“What is needed is to introduce competition in the market through substantial parallel importation,” it said.

At the same time, the Health Alliance for Democracy (Head), a group of health workers and advocates, said President Macapagal-Arroyo should not hedge in signing an executive order (EO) on the MRP.

“The Arroyo administration should not be held captive by investment considerations because pharmaceutical multinationals have long recouped their investments and amassed huge profits at the expense of Filipino life and limb,” said Geneve E. Rivera, secretary general of Head. Ronnel W. Domingo

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