Who is afraid of drug price regulation?
Certainly not the patients, who stand to gain much if prices of much-needed medicine are immediately reduced to low, very inexpensive prices. Definitely not the doctors, who will finally see their patients able to comply and adhere to their medical treatment. And absolutely not the general public, who may yet enjoy a better life when even the most essential and life-saving drugs become affordable.
Who, then, is afraid of drug price regulation? The big pharmaceutical companies and their proxy representatives, who continue to raise the specter of “abuse”, “over-regulation”, “regulatory capture”, and other “complex problems” supposedly posed by price controls.
Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) today reiterated its calls for a strong drug price control and a greater regulation of the entire drug industry in the country. The 3,000-strong national organization of doctors and allied health professionals is one of very few stakeholders strongly pushing for regulation, even as the Bicameral Committee of Congress continues to hammer out the Cheaper Medicine Bill.
“Given the highly monopolized character of the industry, no genuine competition will prosper and thrive. It is the inherent nature of monopolies to suppress, to stunt competition, as can be seen from our experience with the Generics Law. This makes regulation at this juncture both a moral and political imperative.” said Dr. Gene Alzona Nisperos, HEAD secretary-general.
Because of the stifling stranglehold of big pharmas, the number of local Filipino drug manufacturers has been greatly reduced, from around 300 in the 1980s to only 27 today, 8 of which are up for sale. Many of these companies are manufacturing only specific drug lines and cannot yet provide genuine competition to big trans-national corporations (TNCs) or provide a backbone to a strong generics industry here.
More than 70% of total drug sales are accounted for by pharmaceutical TNCs, earning some 58.5 billion pesos for the top 10 drug TNCs (excluding United Laboratories) in 2006. By July 2006, the pharmaceutical market grew by 7.4% in value but declined by 3% in volume, reflecting growth that is mainly driven by price.
“All talk about the so-called market forces coming into play is deceptive. These so-called market forces have been around in the last 20 years and have not affected any real change, which is why we are still faced with exorbitantly priced medicine.”
Added Dr. Nisperos, “The industry players, the big pharmaceuticals, have shown that they are unwilling to regulate themselves. Instead, they push their weight around without fear of reproach or reprimand, as what a big pharmaceutical did when it filed a court case against the Philippine International Trading Center (PITC).”
HEAD believes that the current status quo is unacceptable, especially when government line agencies like the Department of Health and the Bureau of Food and Drugs remain incapable of controlling the unscrupulous profiteering by big pharmaceutical companies.
“Filipino patients are dying or being maimed en masse because they cannot afford the medicine they need. If we truly have the interest of the Filipino patient at heart, then regulation is a requisite, not an option, to making medicine affordable in this country.” concluded Dr. Nisperos, “Anything less is a return to the status quo and an absolute betrayal of this interest.”