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Loopholes in pharma price policy, say drug experts

Oct 04, 2012 08:50 AM IST Politics Politics

New Delhi/Mumbai: The Cabinet is expected to take a decision on the proposed pharma price control policy on Thursday, which has been in discussion since 2007. But five years, two GoMs and a Supreme Court deadline later, drug experts say there are major loopholes in it. The question is whether the new policy will cut down drug prices or will medical bills go higher up in the long term.

The new pharma pricing policy proposes to put a price cap on 348 essential drugs as opposed to only 74 earlier. The proposed move should make 27 types of essential drugs cheaper including those for heart disease, TB and cancers. But drug experts cry foul, saying there are major loopholes and the new policy will not help cut down drug prices in the long run.

First, the new list includes only specific drugs and not a class of drugs. Experts say almost all 348 drugs listed have effective alternative medicines available and pharma companies can escape the price control by selling these alternatives. Drug expert CM Gulati said, "For example, there is a medicine called Inerapril which is used in high blood pressure, now there are eight other pills there called prils, syndropill, penedrol pill, this pill and that pill. They are absolutely equivalent to Inerapril."

Secondly, the new pharma pricing policy covers only some combination drugs. While the drugs listed under price control will have to sell for less, if the combination is changed, they can escape the price cap. Pharma expert Vikas Dandekar said "If you don't include combination drugs, the pharma will produce more of an irrational combination and get doctors to prescribe it."

Thirdly, the pharma pricing policy could lead to an increase in the minimum prices. "The costlier drug will go cheaper, but the cheaper drugs will go costlier because they will say this is the set price," CM Gulati said.

Meanwhile, pharma giant Novartis has told CNN-IBN, "The new proposal will have an impact on industry as the span of price controls will now increase to cover around 30 per cent of the pharmaceutical market."