Sunday, October 07, 2007

Generics law strengthened by deletion of nine words

By Christian V. Esguerra - Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Can a nine-word sentence in the law make a difference in the lives of 88 million Filipinos?

The House of Representatives’ committee version of the cheaper medicines bill has dropped a key provision in the Generics Act of 1988, which critics say has kept patients from availing themselves of lower-priced drugs.

The statement -- “the brand name may be included if so desired” -- was deleted in the omnibus bill, ostensibly to revive the essence of the once-promising piece of legislation.

The provision, which allowed doctors to write in their prescriptions branded medicines besides the generic name, is widely blamed for the failure of the law to make a dent in the local pharmaceutical market, which continued to be dominated by giant multinational companies.

“This crippled the Generics Law,” Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Friday, the day after the committee on trade approved the omnibus cheaper medicines bill.

Representative Arthur Pinggoy, chair of the committee on health, agreed, saying the provision went against the “spirit” of the Generics Law.

By allowing doctors to also prescribe a brand name on top of the generic name, the law unwittingly leads patients to higher-priced medicines in every trip to the drug store, he said.

The Generics Act was meant to allow the public to choose from among the branded versions of a particular generic name. Without bias for any specific brand, patients would naturally go for the cheapest one.

Hontiveros said patients were led to believe that they should -- and could -- go only for branded medicines despite the obvious discrepancy in prices compared to generic drugs.

Another acknowledged reality was that lobbying by pharmaceutical companies, through their medical representatives, helped lead doctors to include their respective brands in prescriptions.

Should the amendment to the Generics Law survive the bicameral conference on the cheaper medicines bill, Hontiveros said its impact would immediately be felt by ordinary Filipinos each time they purchased their prescription drugs.

The amendment was part of the “Noah’s Ark” approach adopted by the committee to address the problem of high-priced medicines in the country.

The omnibus bill, a summary of the fine points of 23 cheaper medicines measures submitted in the 14th Congress, also amended the Intellectual Property Code to allow parallel importation of cheaper drugs.

Another feature in the bill was the establishment of an interim drug price regulatory board, which would map out an operational plan setting price ceilings on medicines within a year.

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