“I have been buying medicines for my mother’s diabetes and hypertension treatment since 15 years. I am a labourer and the expenses have made a big hole in my pocket. Every month, I have to spend around Rs1,000, whereas my total income is Rs7,000. I need to look after other expenses also,” said 35-year -old, Ramu Kadam, a Chembur resident.
For many like Kadam, health-care expenditure has always been out of pocket. Due to increasing costs, people from lower economic group find it difficult to continue their medication for lifelong disease like diabetes and hypertension. Looking at the current scenario, the central government has set-up a panel to explore ways to make drugs affordable for the common man by revisiting the pharmaceutical pricing policy.
The committee will review and suggest major improvements in the Drug (Prices Control) Order, 2013, (DPCO, 2013). This step has been taken to provide affordable medicines by taking measures for pricing policy.
The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), which works under the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), has the powers to cap the prices of drugs that are listed in DPCO, 2013. Moreover, the DPCO also lists the rules and regulations that NPPA has to follow while deciding the price cap.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Oncologist at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, said, “Most medicines have huge profit margins that are passed on to unsuspecting patients. It is shocking that some of the drugs are 10 times more costly than the cost of their generic product. Many pharma companies offer unbelievably massive discounts when bulk purchase is made by the hospitals. It is time to rationalise drug pricing in India.”
The committee consists of two joint secretaries from DoP, member secretary of NPPA, a joint secretary from health ministry, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) and executive director of National Health System Resource Centre (NHSRC).
Dr Jayesh Lele, National Secretary for Indian Medical Association Hospital Board of India (IMA HBI) said, “It is a welcome move as it is in the favour of a needy patient. Essential medicines for blood pressure and diabetes need to be taken for life. So, if there is uniform cost for such disease, it is beneficial to the needy patient.”
Dr Pratit Sambani, associate professor at Breach Candy and Jaslok Hospital, said, “One of the signs of prosperity of any country is quality and longevity of life. The way to increase lifespan is to provide good, regular, free or low rate medicines. It is a good step for life threatening disease.”
He further said, “Another reason for need of affordable medicine is often patients who cannot afford regular expenditure on medicines, discontinue intake of medicine. In turn, it increases severity of their disease.”
According to government notice dated April 6, this committee will “suggest ways to make DPCO, 2013, more comprehensive in light of past experience of implementing” it.
This committee will also be free to consult other government agencies, representatives of industry or civil society “in the interest of more effective DPCO”.
In the terms of reference that has been set for the committee, it is stated that this committee will “suggest ways for making existing mechanism for collection of market-based data on prices of medicines more robust and streamlined and for strengthening the existing pharmaceutical database management system.”
Moreover, the committee will look at this issue as well: “Procedural improvement and process re-engineering in NPPA to ensure better and quicker implementation of government policy (DPCO) and bring greater transparency so as to reduce litigation and review petitions. Draft detailed Standard Operating Protocol (SOPs) may be recommended for identified regulatory functions such as pricing of medicines, monitoring and enforcement activities, action against pharmaceutical in overpricing cases etc.”