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Need To Curb Unfair Drug prices and Inflated Hospital Bills
(The Complex interdisciplinary challenges of Public Health)
The high cost of prescription drugs in the country is unsustainable. Spending on prescription drugs is increasing at a faster rate than any other component of health care spending, and a growing number of Citizens report difficulty affording their medications. High drug prices are forcing many patients to skip doses of critical medicines, and others to choose between their health and necessities like food and rent.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry continues to launch new drugs at exorbitant prices, increase prices of many old drugs without justification, and reap record profits. Drug prices are not linked to the actual costs of research, development and manufacturing. Instead, inflated drug prices are a result of drug manufacturers’ power to charge whatever price the market will bear. Unaffordable hospital bills and inflated medicine prices have made it difficult for a common man to undergo treatment in a private hospital.
Shri D. V. Sadananda Gowda, Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers had stated in Lok Sabha that many private hospitals are involved in profiteering by overcharging for consumable items. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has found that there is a significant difference between the procurement price of scheduled and non-scheduled formulations, medical devices and consumables as compared to the price billed to the patients.
He added that the Complaints related to overpricing have shot up over three times in just two years. The government had received 241 complaints in 2018-19 related to issues in the purchase of medicine and overpricing. The number of such complaints in 2016-17 was 129. The number of complaints related to overpricing alone was 25 in 2016-17, which shot up to 80 in 2018-19, according to the data provided in Lok Sabha.
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The Central Information Commission had also recommended to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Department of Pharmaceuticals and National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to initiate a coordinated attempt to address the issue of checking the menace of overpricing of essential drugs and excessive trade margins to promote greater transparency for the benefit of the common man.
Central Information Commissioner Bimal Julka passed a significant order on 1 October 2018 in response to an appeal under the RTI Act linked with overpricing of essential drugs. The Commission has observed that the larger issue relating to the price structure and extraordinary heavy trade margins on the medicines especially generic medicines had not been addressed by the NPPA.
The “exorbitant” cost of medical treatment in India also drew attention of the Honorable Supreme Court which told the government to “do something” as the people were unable to get treatment due to the “huge cost”. “The cost of medical treatment is exorbitant in India. People are not getting medical treatment because of the huge cost. Government has to do something about it,” a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta had said.
The apex court’s remarks assume significance as the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) had recently said that non-scheduled drugs and diagnostic services constituted major components of charges billed to patients in four private hospitals in Delhi and national capital region (NCR) with margins as high as 1,192 per cent. As per an analysis done by the NPPA, the margin on procurement price of drugs used in emergency cases for treatment of potentially life-threatening low blood pressure was 1,192 per cent.
The Drug Industry’s success in putting profit over people is perhaps one of the most blatant issues today. Let us remind our representatives that now is the time to be morally courageous and end the absurdity, the need for legislative action is urgent.
In order to protect patients by preventing pharmaceutical companies from engaging in harmful pricing practices I believe that Government should target excessive pricing for both generic and brand-name drugs, both by prohibiting unfair launch prices and by capping annual price increases. , In addition Government should mandate the public release of as much information as possible about pricing, as well as development, manufacturing, and marketing costs on a drug-by-drug basis.
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