Fresh exercise to control prices of essential medicines

Fresh exercise to control prices of essential medicines

Photo for representation.

The central government has begun a fresh exercise to revise the national list of essential medicine, hoping that it would result in better quality of medical care, better management of medicines and cost-effective use of health care resources.

The first meeting of the Standing National Committee on Medicine, a new body created for the task, however, triggered an apprehension that the exercise might lead to a delink of the NLEM from the price control, going against the spirit of a Supreme Court order.

The apex court in an order in 2003 had asked the Centre to formulate appropriate criteria “for ensuring that essential and lifesaving drugs do not fall out of price control”. Any exclusion of essential medicines from price control would be a violation of that order.

Niti Aayog

But sources familiar with the pharmaceutical sector told DH that a second panel on medicine affordability at the Niti Aayog might play a bigger role on the pricing issue.

One of the SNCM members also hinted at the possibility but there is barely any clarity from the government, with the pharmaceutical companies lobbying hard against price control.

While the panel under Bhargava was set up in July 2018, it met for the first time on Thursday, in which the committee expanded its role beyond medicine to have a look at medical devices, consumables and hygiene and healthcare products too.

Close to 70 members from the pharmaceutical industry, along with their lawyers, attended the meeting with very few representations from the non-governmental outfits and patient rights groups. Bhargava, however, said the panel would hear more from such groups in future.

One of the challenges before the committee is to decide if expensive anti-cancer medicines like bedamustine, cytarbine, dasatinib, erlotinib, irinotecan, lenalidomide, leuprolien, nilotinib and pesapergase can be brought under the NLEM.

Inclusion in the NLEM would allow the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority to fix the ceiling prices of such medicines.

India has one of the world's highest out-of-pocket expenditure on health, with people spending nearly 60% of their medical budget on medicine and diagnostics.

“The out-of-Pocket expenditure still remains the major component of healthcare expenditure and one of its major component is expenditure on medicines,” says the 2019 Economic Survey, released earlier this month.