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Times of India
09 August 2010
By Rema Nagarajan
New Delhi, India

Proposal Is Aimed At Making Medicines Accessible To All
The parliamentary standing committee on health and family welfare has suggested a series of measures like increasing the number of drugs under price control, a blanket cap on profit margins of all medicines and promoting the use of generic drugs to make drugs more affordable and accessible to the common man.

The measures, which seek to tackle the problem of the rising price of drugs, which now account for up to 80% of total healthcare costs, are bound to raise the hackles of the pharmaceutical industry. These recommendations were made by the standing committee in a report tabled in Parliament on August 4, urging immediate measures to bring down the cost of medicines, because healthcare costs were the second biggest reason for rural indebtedness.

To add to the worries of the pharma sector, the committee has also sought regulation of pharmaceutical companies caught bribing doctors, with stringent punishment such as cancelling their drug manufacturing licences.

Making a reference to TOI’s reports on the issue, the committee noted that the Medical Council of India could only regulate doctors, as it had no jurisdiction over companies and suggested that the penalisation of pharma firms be done through the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) or the income tax department.

MPs’ Panel For Cap On Profits Of All Drugs
The committee pointed out that the legal framework to put a cap on profiteering from medicines was available with the government under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). It also noted that in the original Drug Price Control Order, there was a proposal for a cap on overall profitability of drug manufacturers to discourage them from shifting from price–controlled (less profitable) to uncontrolled (hugely profitable) medicines. The proposal was never implemented.

Bitter Pill
The committee found a direct relation between high healthcare costs and rural poverty It said prescription of irrational and useless drugs by many doctors was rampant. Therefore, it said, it was necessary to include more essential and life saving drugs under price regulation Also, pharma cos caught bribing doctors could risk losing their manufacturing licences Panel for direct promotion of generic drugs

New Delhi: The parliamentary standing committee on health and family welfare has suggested a cap on profit margins on all medicines in order to tackle the problem of the rising price of drugs.

"The Committee recommends that the department of health and family welfare in coordination with the department of pharmaceuticals move the inter–ministerial coordination committee and start a process of examining the issue of putting a blanket cap on profit margins of all medicines across (the) board,’’ the committee report added.

"The Committee is shocked to note that despite there being irrefutable evidence of a strong link between high prices of medicines and poverty as also despite the fact that one of the objectives of the 11th Five Year Plans is to include essential drugs under a system of price regulation, the number of drugs under price control still remains a pathetic 74,’’ stated the report.

The committee sought an explanation for restricting the number of price controlled drugs to a mere 74 and said in this regard: "Prescription of irrational and useless drugs by many of the doctors with ulterior motives is rampant. The committee is, therefore, convinced that there is no other alternative but to include more essential and life–saving drugs under price regulation.’’

The report also pointed out that since the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority had no jurisdiction over the pricing of new patented medicines, they were being sold at exorbitant prices, many of them by importers. The committee urged the government to address this issue too.

All categories of medicines are required to comply with the standards specified in the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules. Therefore, a generic medicine is equivalent to the branded product, meeting the same standards of quality, noted the report. It asked the government to make efforts to give wide publicity to this fact, so that the apprehensions of the public fuelled by interested quarters about generic drugs not being of good quality could be dispelled.

It suggested that both the central and state governments eliminate middlemen by procuring generic drugs in bulk straight from the manufacturers and dispensing them directly to the patients through health centres.

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