The contentious “generics-only prescribing” provision of the Cheaper Medicine Bill plays right into the hands of big pharmaceutical companies.
The group Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) warned that this provision serves only to distract legislators and stakeholders, divert attention from the flaws that need to be addressed, and prevent a thorough discussion of the more salient features of the bill.
According to Dr. Gene Alzona Nisperos, HEAD secretary-general, “While generics-only prescribing is an ideal that all health activists aspire for, it is not the decisive issue at this juncture. Unfortunately, the obstinate insistence on this provision is being exploited by big pharmas and their cohorts so that the more important features of the bill will be glossed over.”
Central features of the bill that need meticulous deliberations include provisions on the national drug policy, parallel importation, compulsory licensing, and drug price regulation. HEAD believes that these are the vital issues that big pharmas have undermined in the bill, and that legislators are being pushed into a position of compromising an exhaustive scrutiny of the bill in order to expedite its passage.
HEAD, the 3,000-member national organization of doctors and allied health professionals, is calling on legislators to “keep their eye on the ball”, to focus on the problem rather than be lured by provisions that will not effectively mitigate the stranglehold of big transnational companies (TNCs) on the drug industry.
“Big pharmaceuticals are not worried about the generics-only prescribing at this point as this will neither directly nor immediately impact on their profiteering.” according to Dr. Nisperos. “They may even exploit this to further their influence on the prescribing habits of doctors.”
“But big pharmaceuticals are deathly afraid of mechanisms that threaten to alter the status quo, especially provisions providing for stronger regulation and fostering increased competition. Enforcing regulation, such as drug price regulation, promoting competition that leads to the development of a self-reliant national drug industry, and implementing a comprehensive National Drug Policy that is linked with the entire Philippine health care delivery system - these are the steps that will dismantle existing monopolies. And these are the steps that big pharmas want to stop.”
Hence, the language and formulation of the bill on these provisions will require careful and repeated examination to prevent flaws or “riders” that will render them powerless. Parts that have been “consolidated” by the congressional bicameral committee should be made available to all stakeholders so that these can be examined further.
Among the things that HEAD is pushing for is drug price regulation that will immediately reduce the prices of a broad range of essential, life-saving, and maintenance drugs. HEAD also wants the drug price regulatory board to be independent, with multi-stakeholder representation, and with direct accountability to an oversight committee of Congress. ###