MANILA — The Department of Health on Tuesday said it is working to include more medicines in the recently approved executive order that cut the retail prices of critical medicines by up to 58 percent.
“DOH, together with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and stakeholders, was also tasked to review the price reduction of the remaining 35 drugs to finalize the list covered by the EO,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said during a press conference a day after Executive Order no. 104 was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The DOH initially proposed 122 medicines to be included in the second phase of the Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP) scheme. The last time a price cap was imposed was more than a decade ago in 2009. It only included five medicines.
But the EO signed on Monday only included 87 of DOH’s proposed 122 medicines that address leading diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung diseases, major cancers, and other diseases.
“We also have to consider the position of the industry. These are medicines that (will have a price cut) of more than 60 percent, more than 70 percent,” said Dr. Anna Melissa Guerrero, program manager of DOH’s Pharmaceutical Division.
“We’re trying to make it equal with the prices abroad (that’s why the price cap is that low). So this will be studied by us and the Department of Trade and Industry and we will have a workable solution together with the affected stakeholders,” she said.
The DOH officials pointed out that prices of medicines in the Philippines are significantly higher than even those in developed countries.
Guerrero said sometimes it is even twice or thrice as high as medicine in other countries.
“First, there is limited competition,” Duque said. “Second, the disease burden — demand is high so companies increase the prices because those who are sick are desperate.”
Duque said profit is also added throughout the supply chain, from the manufacturer to the wholesaler.
“In the Philippine market, we are heavily dependent on imports,” Guerrero explained, “These are mostly patented, single-source. Most of them if not all of them imported, mostly from the multinational companies.”
Guerrero said there has been a lot of discussion on the global level about the lack of transparency about how multinational companies are pricing their medicine. She said some claim that they are simply including their cost for research and development but it does not always add up.
“Even other governments are complaining because they can’t afford the medicine through their insurance system,” she said.
Asked if companies are further exploiting the situation in the Philippines, Guerrero said, “Perhaps there is because why did they increase prices if there is already VAT exemption?”
“It’s unacceptable for a country like the Philippines, we are not even a high middle-income country, that prices (of medicine) are higher than European countries, for example,” she said.
IMPLEMENTATION in 90 DAYS
In the meantime, Duque said the DOH will have an administrative order for the implementation of the price cap.
“Violations of the price caps will be dealt with in accordance with the Cheaper Medicines Act and other relevant laws together with the DTI and the FDA,” Duque said.
Duque also emphasized that the new prices will still be subject to special discounts to senior citizens and persons with disability.
He cited a Pulse Asia survey last year, which showed that 99 percent of Filipinos are not buying their prescribed medicine because of the unaffordable costs. Only 24 percent said they are willing to spend up to P5,000 for a month’s supply of medicines while 71 percent said they can only spend up to P1,000.
“With the limited ability of many Filipinos to support even their basic needs, how can they even pay for expensive medications which could amount to Php 5 million to treat cancer, for example? We cannot accept these sky-high prices as the norm. The industry and health institutions must be socially responsible and ensure that medicines are within reach of the ordinary Filipino,” Duque said.