Along with the initiation of globalization process of India in 1991, many significant reform oriented steps are being taken by the Government for the pharmaceutical industry as its growth booster.
In tandem with gradual reduction in the span of price control, the government also ensured dereservation of specified drugs only for the public sector and opened it up to the private sector, as well. During this period, foreign investments through automatic route was first raised from 49 to 74 percent and then to 100 percent.New product patent regime with the introduction of the Patents Act 2005 ushered in a paradigm shift in the pharmaceutical landscape of India, encouraging the domestic industry to invest in R&D. In line with these reforms, weighted deduction on in-house research and development facility was increased to 200 percent to cover expenditure towards R&D, patent filing, regulatory approvals and clinical trials, over a period of time.
With creation of an enabling growth environment, the government helped the domestic industry catapult itself as a major global force to reckon with, in the generic pharmaceutical space of the world.
Unfortunately, in recent times, the policy makers of the country instead of flooring the gas pedal keeping public health interest in mind, seems to have decided to shift its foot on the brake, creating great uncertainty within the industry.
Recent developments: A cause of concern
As reported by the media the recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on the Draft National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy 2011 (NPPP 2011) was scheduled for discussion in the Union Cabinet meeting on November 8, 2012.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) reportedly sent its views on the same to the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) and also the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) advocating continuation of the current cost plus pricing policy.
As a result, the media reported that the NPPP 2011 was eventually removed from the Cabinet Meeting agenda of November 8, 2012, as the PMO referred the policy back to the GoM requesting the Cabinet Secretariat to mandate the Ministers to hold a fresh meeting (now scheduled on November 21, 2012), consider the view of MoF and get back to the Union Cabinet with a final proposal so that an appropriate decision may be taken by the Cabinet on the new Drug Policy before November 27, as stipulated by the Supreme court of India.
With this, the saga of uncertainty on the new Drug Policy continues unabated.
Finance Ministry views: Continue with cost plus formula:
The key recommendations of the Ministry of Finance as reported are as follows:
- The proposal to limit the NPPP to control prices of only formulations leaving aside bulk drugs is not ‘supported’.
- Top priced brands in many therapy areas are also the brand leaders. As a result, high prices of such drugs while calculating the ceiling prices would push up prices of many low priced drugs significantly.
- The current system which is a cost plus system is adequate to cover all legitimate costs for a manufacturer, particularly when the costing is being done annually and should be continued.
- The same cost plus system should also apply to other formulations where additional therapeutic elements will be added. Related incremental cost in those cases can be considered to determine the ceiling price of combination formulations.
- The Maximum Retail Prices (MRP) for all NLEM 2011 drugs may be fixed by the NPPA accordingly and the pharmaceutical companies would be free to price these NLEM products at any level below the MRP.
- Annual indexation of price with WPI is not supported. The cost analysis should determine the quantum of increase.
- Data related to prices and market shares should be collected from sources other than IMS even for drugs covered by them. The methodology to be followed by NPPA for evaluating IMS data and for collecting the data for medicines from other sources should be included in the NPPP.
- A phased movement towards 100 percent generic manufacturing, as recommended by the Ministry of Health (MoH), for all drugs under the NLEM should be considered.
The industry view: Have a Balanced Approach
As I understand, the industry feels that the Finance Ministry recommendations are continuation of the same old policy, which has failed to address the key issue of providing affordable and quality healthcare, including medicines, to all, since over last four decades.
However, the pharmaceutical industry has supported the recommendations of the GoM on NPPP 2011 as they reckon it will be a positive step to ensure affordability for the patients, ensure adequate availability and at the same time will not cripple the growth of the industry.
As recommended by the GoM, the draft NPPP 2011 would take the Weighted Average Price (WAP) of all brands with greater than 1% market share by volume as the ceiling price. This formula should improve patient affordability as Weighted Average Price (WAP) of all brands will be most representative of the Indian pharmaceutical market.
The GoM-recommended pricing policy, the industry feels, will certainly have an adverse impact on the pharmaceutical industry as price controls will be expanded and prices will now be based on roughly 91 percent of the pharmaceutical market by value. This will result in over 20 percent price reduction in 60 percent of the NLEM medicines. More importantly, the policy will also achieve the objectives of the Government in ensuring essential medicines are available to those who need these most, by managing prices in the retail market and balancing industry growth.
The existing cost-plus policy, industry leaders argue, has significant limitations and has adversely impacted industry and patients, for example, by shifting bulk drug production out of India (to countries like China), reducing innovation in cost control medicines, limiting new introductions and failing to help medicines reach patients located in rural India.
Many stakeholders have written about the negative implications of a cost-plus pricing methodology. Too stringent price control norms would stifle the pharmaceutical industry and may result in serious shortages of essential drugs in the country. An apt example in this case is that the existing price control regime under DPCO 1995 has caused manufacturing to shift away from the country about 27 notified bulk drugs under price control. In fact, only 47 out 74 bulk drugs under DPCO 1995 are now produced in the country. Such a situation needs, the industry articulates, to be prevented from happening in the future. It is quite likely the focus of the national pharma industry may shift then to export, defeating the primary purpose of the new policy.
Moreover, the WHO in its feedback on the draft NPPP 2011 welcomed the intent to move away from cost-plus pricing as it has been abandoned elsewhere. Even developing countries typically have no price control on private market (non-government, non-social insurance reimbursement) sales of pharmaceuticals.
Based on a survey of developing countries similar to India, it is seen that the countries that do have price control for private market drugs, employ market based methods e.g. in Brazil cost-based price regulations do not exist outside of government reimbursement, social insurance reimbursement schemes. In short, essential medicines predominantly seem to be reimbursed either via government or social insurance or provided free by the government.
Since the Government has recognized that a pricing policy alone cannot ensure access to quality medicines, over the last few months, it has undertaken several steps in the right direction to improve access and affordability of medicines.
The Government has already announced that it will spend over US $5.4 billion to provide essential medicines free to patients in government-run hospitals and clinics. The Government is also in the process of putting in place a central procurement authority to purchase medicines for its use, which, if operated on a level playing field, can realize economies of scale and create the conditions necessary to drive down costs through competition. All such policies can enhance access to medicines and also promote healthy competition in the industry. Both the outcomes cannot be achieved with any price control regime alone.
Expanding access to quality medicines at affordable prices is in everyone’s best interest, and the industry seems to have expressed its willingness and keenness to engage in the development and implementation of policies that will make medicines in India more affordable and accessible to all.
Pharmaceutical industry expressed its support to the key principles of the new pricing policy, essentiality of drugs and market based pricing so as to ensure greater patient sensitized pricing of medicines. As cited by the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) of the Prime Minister, the negligible increase in drug prices over the last 7 years illustrates the intense competition in the Indian Pharmaceutical Market. In comparison, prices of other essential items including food items have increased steeply. Between 2004 and 2012, price rise of drugs has only been 3/8th of all commodities and half of that of manufactured products.
However, in order to make the pricing formula more robust and to prevent prices of lower priced drugs from moving towards the ceiling price, a section of the industry recommended that this formula be combined with price increases limited to Weighted Price Index (WPI) or 10 percent p.a. (the present price increase cap for non-DPCO) whichever is higher, for individual brands. This measure is expected to make it a fool proof pricing mechanism.
New Drug Policy to focus on all-round inclusive growth:
The role and objectives of the NPPP should help accelerating all-round inclusive growth of the Indian pharmaceutical industry and try to make it a force to reckon with, in the global pharmaceutical industry.
The drug policy is surely not formulated just to implement rigorous price control of drugs. The policy includes other key objectives to contribute significantly towards achieving the healthcare objectives of the nation and also to boost the growth of the industry, working closely with other related ministries of the government.
As stated above by the industry, to correct the imbalance between availability and affordability of essential medicines, in 2005, the government constituted a special taskforce, which is widely known as ‘Dr. Pronab Sen Committee’. This committee was mandated to recommend options other than existing methodology of price control (DPCO 95) for achieving the objective of making available life-saving and essential drugs at reasonable prices.
In its report, the committee did suggest an alternative measure at that time, concluding that the present price control system (DPCO 95) is inappropriate, inadequate and complex, besides being time consuming in its implementation.
Unfortunately, the views of the MoF point towards continuation of the same old regime, which has failed to deliver for so many decades.
I therefore reckon, it is about time to recognize that the ‘Old is not always Gold’, at least in this particular issue. The government should in no way allow the saga of uncertainty in the formulation of a vibrant and inclusive Drug Policy to continue. The policy makers should consciously shun away any possibility of taking retrograde steps on this critical matter for the sake of both patients and the pharmaceutical industry of India, alike.
By: Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.