Government of India launched ‘Jan Aushadhi’ campaign to provide quality medicines at affordable prices to the masses. [For ToI report, see here.] The Centre will procure medicines in bulk from public as well as private drug manufacturing firms and rebrand them under ‘Jan Aushadhi’. These medicines will be sold in the retail market at a competitive price, allowing consumers to buy cheaper, quality product from the government. The aforesaid ‘Jan Aushadhi’ initiative is similar to the initiative launched by Kerala Government. [For ToI report on initiative of Kerala Government, see here.] The GoI initiative is to be appreciated in the light of recently released Draft National Health Policy, 2015 which proposed raising public health expenditure to 2.5% from the present 1.2% of GDP. The Draft Policy suggested a radical shift by making health a justiciable fundamental right.
As to begin with, the government has identified 504 essential medicines which include antibiotics, painkillers, vitamins and medicines used in treatment of cardiovascular, respiratory, diabetes and gastroenterology diseases. Since prescription based medicines cannot be promoted through advertisements, companies often promote their brands through doctors and chemists. As the consumers have to rely on doctor’s prescription or on chemists, they are at a disadvantage. The government’s latest move providing an umbrella brand for generic drugs is aimed at enabling consumers to make that critical choice. Once the brand is rolled out, the government plans to make it mandatory for public hospitals to prescribe it wherever possible.
This is, of course, a welcome development. A medical patient as a consumer differs from an ordinary consumer who goes to the retail market for buying stationery. The former generally doesn’t enjoy discretionary power. The latter can choose from a list of brands as per his /her discretion. Thus a medical patient can be at a receiving end in case of market imperfections. The situation, therefore, warrants government intervention.
Prashant had earlier written an excellent article titled ‘Dealing with the cost of cancer treatment in India: Are patents the problem?’ Though the post dealt with cancer and patented drugs, his observations on price control are nevertheless relevant. On price control, Prashant observed as follows: “India’s experiment with price-control for drugs has been largely ineffectual either due to poorly drafted laws or due to poor implementation. Moreover patented drugs are not covered under the present price-control regime. In its 58th Report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare had this to say on price-control for patented medicines:
The Committee notes that as of now there is no mechanism in place to regulate the prices of new patented drugs which are imported in the country and sold at supernormal profits, whereas prices of the same medicines are considerably lower in other countries. The Committee does not accept the submission made by the Secretary (Pharmaceuticals) that there is no price control of a patented drug for open market. The Committee would like to observe that India as a sovereign country has every right to decide the prices of a drugs which are sold in the open market. The Committee therefore recommends to evolve an effective mechanism to control prices of imported patented drugs being sold in Indian Market.
It would be interesting to see the government experiment with price-control on patented drugs. In many ways, such price-control measures will automatically resolve the ‘differential pricing’ dilemma being faced by innovator pharmaceutical companies. However given India’s history with price-control, I wouldn’t bet on this option.”
We still have a long way to go…….In fact, we have miles to go before we sleep…and miles to go before we sleep:)