Thursday, July 09, 2009

Drug discount cards on facebook

Yesterday, after reading some Manila newpaper columnists' articles on drug discount cards, I posted a status in my facebook account. Shortly after, several friends commented. Below are the actual comments. I thank them -- Elizabeth Cueva, a friend from UP and now a practicing lawyer in NYC; Eric Tolentino also from UP, and Gene Peters, for giving me permission to post here her comments.

Below are the exchanges:

Nonoy Oplas (is) Reading a number of news articles and opinions on drug discount cards. I only realized recently this is a big issue here in Manila. A marketing promo is now being pushed to be a mandatory promo; if you don't do it, you're an evil. hmmmm...

hi nonoy. isn't this really a way to track the doctor who prescribes the company's medicines instead of really giving discounts. great way to go around the senior citizen's benefit too! - Gil

Hi Gil. Yes -- track the doctors, the med reps, the patients, the drug stores, everyone who willingly agrees to the scheme, in exchange for lower price and continued patronage of a particular drug. If those pharma companies will distribute their discount cards to all doctors nationwide, let them continue their marketing promo, the State should get out of such promo. The State can invite more pharma companies to come in, launch their own promos, overall the patients will benefit. -- Nonoy

Yeah, the State should get out of the drug discount promo deal. It defeats the purpose as a marketing tool. The market should drive it. People in the Philippines are actually luckier when it comes to access to vital life-saving medications. The state of the current U.S. health care system sucks big time. -- Elizabeth

Ah, many Filipinos do not realize that, thanks Elizabeth. Instead of recognizing the presence and merit of the few multinational pharma companies in the Philippines -- there are soooo many other multinational pharma companies that are not yet here that could help increase competition -- those few are being demonized. Even their promos, a unilateral and voluntary act on their part, is being seen as an evil scheme. -- Nonoy

I should know. My grandma and my mom are both pharmacists/ med techs there and their family used to own boticas in the Sampaloc, Manila area. The prices were lower with these "mom and pop" boticas which were wiped out by big drug conglomerates Mercury, Commodore. Still, the prices are more affordable than in the U.S. and generic medication more accessible. Thanks to Flavier for pushing the generic brands.

Here in the U.S. when I lost a job, I lost employer-subsidized medical and drug insurance coverage. I now have to shell out money for COBRA medical/drug insurance coverage and IT HURTS. The coverage is not even enough and I have to shell out more every visit to the doctor for treatment or prescription. So, for me prevention is really key. It is really fatal to get even slightly sick here in the U.S. without medical or drug insurance coverage because of the prohibitive price of medical care, treatment and medicines. -- Elizabeth

Commodore drug, wala na yata dito. Mercury and Watsons are the biggest drugstores now. The mom-and-pop type of boticas are partly being wiped out by government regulations. They make only about 5 to 15% profit margin because of competition, but the senior citizens discount is 20% mandatory. Such loss is not even tax deductible. -- Nonoy

I read somewhere that in countries like India, exactly similar drugs (hypertension) can be purchased for just 1/5 the cost here. How true? And how can I get my hands on those drugs? Gimme, gimme... -- Eric Tolentino

Hi Eric, PITC, a government corporation, made that study, no one bothered to double-check the figures and computations. Even if the numbers are correct (ie, only 1/5 of price in India), those are prices there, not here. When those cheap medicines are imported into the Philippines, there are several costs to include: transport and storage, taxes (import tax, import processing fee, import doc stamp tax, local tax, VAT, etc.). When sold in drugstores, they are expensive again.

Also, note that it's under a parallel importation scheme. The foreign manufacturer abroad (say GSK or Pfizer or Roche, etc.) is different from the foreign wholesaler or aggregator, is different from the Phil. importer and distributor. If the imported drugs turn out to be fake or substandard causing allergies or death to patients, difficult to pinpoint who's to blame. -- Nonoy

Health care problems since then is a big issue in Manila, with a growing populace and detiriorating quality of living manilans are more succeptible in many forms of ailment.. the real problem here is our policy on health care are lame and useless thats why they put another issue on top of one that will never solve the basic problem of health care for all, benefits for some sectors are mere band aid solutions..while pharma companies rakes in the profuts.. of course with the help of our caring doctors. -- Gene Peters

Hi Gene, in the first place, health care is personal and parental responsibility, not govt. responsibility. People should not over-drink, over-smoke, over-eat fatty food, over-sit and live sedentary lifestyle, over-fight and get into frequent rumbles, etc. Pharma companies exist because there is a demand for them, the same way that beer, burger and cellphone producers exist because there is a demand for them. When medicine prices are high, blame the govt. high and multiple taxes on drugs, blame the lack of competition among pharma companies because of govt. bureaucracies. Soooo many multinational pharmas, the innovator ones especially, are not yet here in the Phils. -- Nonoy

Health care is also a government responsibility, but the policies must be salutary and not detrimental to general welfare. Just like what Gene said, it should not be a band aid approach. So, for me, government's role is not really to regulate and restrict but to facilitate access to high quality health care with lower costs for all. -- Elizabeth

Ok, I forgot to add in my earlier reply to Gene that government has secondary responsibility to health care. Like in cases of pandemic and outbreak of contagious diseases. In the absence of such health emergencies, government should back out, allow more competition among private hospitals and clinics, more pharma and drugstore companies, etc. When one or some pharma companies introduce fake and substandard medicines that can result to more disease, if not death to patients, government comes in to enforce the rule of law -- no killing, no harming, no stealing, etc. -- Nonoy

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