Cheap meds bill sponsor doubts it will lower prices of drugs

South Cotabato Rep. Arthur Pingoy Jr., a medical doctor and chair of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Health, said it did not provide for the creation of a body that would manage its proposed price regulatory mechanisms.

Pingoy originally proposed for the creation of a drug price regulatory board that will mainly regulate and set price ceilings on various drugs that are sold in the country.  

But the "Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008" passed on Tuesday by the Senate and House bicameral conference committee gave the power to the President to set the drug price ceilings, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Health.

"I really can't say if it will be of any help to us once it becomes a law. The removal of the price regulatory board provision made the measure weak and it has no enough teeth to effectively counter the skyrocketing prices of drugs here," Pingoy said in an interview over radio station dxMC Bombo Radyo here.

Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron, also an author of the bill, earlier raised strong objections to the Senate version that removed the provisions on "generic-only prescription" and the price regulatory board.

Former Iloilo congressman and now Vice Governor Rolex Suplico, who authored the measure in the 11th Congress, also condemned the removal of the regulatory provisions, calling it a "sellout" to multinational drug manufacturers.

By his own calculation, Pingoy said the new measure will only affect less than five percent of the medicines currently available in the markets.

But he said such impact will not be felt much by the people since the government's investments for the drug parallel importation only reaches P500 million.

"We need to increase this budget and strengthen our parallel importation capacity to make it work in the P100-billion drug industry here," the congressman said.       

With the proposed creation of a drug price regulatory board now a history, he said he will just focus his efforts on pushing for the strengthening of the functions of the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), currently an agency attached to the Department of Health.

"The BFAD will not only seek to assure us of cheaper medicines but the quality ones as well," he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)