The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority’s decision to cap the ceiling prices of 108 anti-diabetes and cardiovascular formulations has upset the drug industry, which is up in arms against the order. When the industry argues these medicines don’t come within the purview of either Schedule-I drugs or essential drugs, it only betrays its ignorance of the Drug Prices Control Order, 2013, that empowers the NPPA to fix the price of any drug “in public interest”. The authority cannot, hence, be faulted for its decision. Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are, by and large, lifestyle-induced. Consequently, the number of people suffering from these diseases has been rising.
This itself shows that anti-diabetes and cardiovascular formulations can only be described as essential drugs. Unlike consumer goods which people can choose depending on their affordability, the patients are helpless when it comes to drugs. They have to buy whatever medicines the doctors prescribe, as they do not have any knowledge about the compositions of the medicines. It is also well-known that most doctors are influenced by sales promotion by the pharmaceutical companies. It is also not uncommon for such companies to bribe doctors indirectly, if not directly, by giving them incentives to prescribe their medicines. Forget the differences in the prices of generic drugs and branded drugs, there is a huge difference in the prices of the same medicines manufactured by different companies.
True, market forces should guide the manufacturing and pricing of drugs. This would have ensured competitive pricing, which would have benefited the consumer. Even in case of drugs that have become generic, there is a huge difference in their prices when they are manufactured and sold by different companies under different brand names. This is tantamount to pricing the same molecules differently. If the market cannot correct this anomaly, state intervention is necessary in the public interest. Instead of finding fault with the NPPA’s decision, the drug industry would do well to remove the disparities in the prices in the interest of patients, who are mostly poor.