Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health politics

I am thankful to the DOH that I've been a part of the DOH Advisory Council on price regulation -- a multi-sectoral, multi-interest body that deliberates on whether government shoup dip its hands in setting or dictating the price of certain medicines, on whether to allow or restrict drug discount cards, and related topics. The DOH's hands are tied here because the Cheaper medicines law mandates it to take up such matters.

I perfectly remember that the subject of voluntary drug price reduction was extensively discussed during the 4th and 5th Council meetings last month, and I realized there that for the first time perhaps in the history of the Philippine pharma industry, the multinationals and Filipino pharma companies were united -- in opposing mandatory government price control.

Last Saturday, July 25, the Advisory Council released its first Resolution, "Implementing the voluntary price reduction for at least 16 molecules (or 41 drug preparations)". It was signed by various stakeholders and participants that regularly attend the Council meetings. I wasn't there because the schedule of the meeting and announcement was moved from 1pm to 10am, and I have an obligation for my daughter in the morning of that day.

The big problem in the implementation of 50 percent price cut (or any other rate) are the small drugstores in the provinces which have no computerized system in tracking their inventories, sales, orders, and so on. Otherwise, the big drugstores (Mercury especially, Watsons, PITC Pharma, etc.) can easily comply within the 1 month transition period (August 15 to September 15) before penalties for violation will be implemented.

The list of medicines under voluntary price reduction was advertised in big newspapers last Sunday (and perhaps in other days).

But politics set in, as usual. What could be plain "voluntary price" became "Government Mediated Access" (GMA) price, referring to the initials of the name of the President of the country. Which shows once again the ugliness of government intervention. When government comes in, there are always "bahid politika" or political motives, and there are always politicians taking the undeserved media credits.

In reality, government produces not a single tablet, not a single medicine. Government only produces regulations, prohibitions and ots of paper work that all private enterprises (from barber shop to food shop to pharma companies) must comply.

When my brother was still undergoing chemo treatment (prostate C), one injection was worth P25,000, nearly P3,000 of which was VAT alone. Eight (8) or more treatments, not effective enough because the cancer virus has spread to his body already. A last-attempt chemo just to prolong his life was worth P90k (of which around P10K was VAT alone). Days before his death, his pain was beyond description. On his last few hours though, he was already unconscious and perhaps, rested.

Cancer and Taxes, they have one similarity: they both suck, they both kill.

I know of some rich people who have cancer. They can afford even the most expensive medicines, even the most expensive doctors. But current breed of many medicines are not powerful enough to beat and kill cancer (or AIDS and Alzheimers). So they die quick once the virus spreads in their body.

Some NGO leaders in our local health coalition in Manila portray me as a "traitor" for consistently opposing government price control, government confiscation of private property in IPR. But I sincerely believe in medicine innovation. Only new, revolutionary, more powerful, real killer drugs of killer diseases can save lives. The generics and cheaper versions can follow later.

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