DOH studying counter offer to lower prices of medicines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 20) – The Department of Health (DOH) is studying the counter proposal of some pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily reduce the cost of some of their medicines by 50 to 75 percent, in lieu of a price cap regulation.

“We appreciate the gesture of Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) and we have been continuously evaluating the proposal, taking into account the intended goal of the Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP), which aims to improve Filipinos’ access to affordable medicines,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a statement released Thursday.

The offer, which covers 155 medicines across 36 disease categories for both public and private sectors, comes after the health department's move to impose reductions in the prices of at least 120 prescription drugs for leading chronic diseases in the country such as major cancers, hypertension, neonatal illnesses, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung diseases and diabetes. The DOH and other government agencies are “refining” the proposed executive order seeking to put a price cap on certain high-cost specialty medicines.

PHAP Executive Director Teodoro Padilla defended their suggestion to slash their prices by at least half, saying it is a “more sustainable approach” than the DOH’s proposal.

Padilla said it while is supports the health department's advocacy to cut drug prices, cost regulation can cause sustainability issues, such as lower drug supply.

Ang unang effect, bumababa ang presyo pero in the long run, ang nagsusuply ng gamot, di nila kayang ma-maintain. ‘O yung sustainability na sinasabi natin, becomes a problem.”

[Translation: The first effect is price reduction but in the long run, sustainability becomes an issue.]

He added that it is "surprising" that the DOH is asking for a 97-percent price reduction in some drugs, even though they already have generic equivalents.

Duque, however, expressed apprehension towards PHAP's suggestion, noting that the group cannot assure price cuts in places where they are retailed, due to the lack of written policy. He added it would only benefit a small percentage of patients.

“We must take some things into consideration. First of all, given its voluntary nature, PHAP cannot guarantee price reduction at points of sale, such as drugstores, drug retailers, and private hospitals, which comprise at least 90% of the total pharmaceutical market. We know that the drug prices in these markets are significantly higher compared with government prices,” Duque said.

“Only 63 of the 122 drugs proposed by the DOH for price reduction were included in the list, with no price reduction for other high-cost medicines,” Duque added.

He also said that of the 155 drugs, only 107 could be subject to price cuts, adding that the rest would only be offered to government-run hospitals, which are less than 1 percent of the market.

The DOH also said that it has reviewed 49 other position papers from stakeholders, including medical associations, consumer organizations, and patient groups on how to make high-cost drugs cheaper.