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Pharma industry pushes back on drug price control board

DRUGMAKERS said further price controls on their products will hinder the industry in recovering from the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic.

Responding Wednesday to a legislative proposal to establish a price board for drugs, Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) Trustee Jannette Alcantara Jakosalem said price controls will be an added burden to the industry on top of the difficult economic environment.

“Like many industries, the pharmaceutical industry has not recovered from the pandemic. The contraction of the market reached up to minus 18% in 2020. This is evidence of our struggles. On top of our struggles, the government imposed mandatory price reductions of up to 50% for 133 pharmaceutical products,” she said at a hearing of the House Committee on Trade and Industry.

“The imposition of price controls is retrogressive and may discourage highly needed pharmaceutical investments that are crucial to economic recovery… price regulation is a disincentive to innovation and is a barrier to the entry for new life-saving medicines,” she added.

The committee was deliberating House Bills 4306 and 2578, which call for the creation of the Drug Price Regulatory Board. They propose to amend Republic Act (RA) 9502 or the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008.

RA 9502 gives the President the power to impose maximum retail drug prices upon recommendation of the Secretary of Health. The proposed price board that features in both bills will be given sole authority to determine and recommend maximum retail prices.

Both bills’ explanatory notes cite the need to make innovative drugs available at affordable prices, which they claim RA 9502 did not achieve.

Ms. Jakosalem said that the government should focus on ensuring the availability of quality drugs, after past price caps discouraged the entry and restricted the supply of innovative medicines.

She said of the 166 innovative medicines registered in the US and European Union, only nine were available in the Philippines, while the price controls have also forced some products to be withdrawn from the market.

Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations Board Member Karen Alparce-Villanueva said while the organization supports the amendments, an additional agency will add to the healthcare “bureaucracy,” and called for a system expanding access to more medicines.

Any such system “needs to balance regulation and innovation so medicines can get to the country,” she said.

Ms. Jakosalem said PHAP believes that the President needs to make the final call on drug price levels, as he has direct access to the best advice of various agencies. She added that a price board represents another bureaucratic layer that may delay decision-making.

Laban Konsyumer, Inc. President Vic Dimagiba said at the hearing that the proposed price board has been considered by past Congresses, adding that the pandemic should finally push the 18th Congress to make it happen.

“We are making a plea na sanawag itong palampasin nitong 18th Congress at isabatas ang drug price regulatory board (the 18th Congress should not let this opportunity pass and approve the measure creating the drug price regulatory board),” he said.

He added that the proposed body could address any “gaps” in Executive Order No. 104 issued last year by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, which imposed price caps on the 133 medicines. — Gillian M. Cortez

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