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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