January 11, 2011 edition of ‘The Lancet’ in its article titled, “Financing health care for all: challenges and opportunities” commented as follows:
“India’s health financing system is a cause of and an exacerbating factor in the challenges of health inequity, inadequate availability and reach, unequal access, and poor-quality and costly health-care services. The Government of India has made a commitment to increase public spending on health from less than 1% to 3% of the gross domestic product during the next few years…. Enhanced public spending can be used to introduce universal medical insurance that can help to substantially reduce the burden of private out-of-pocket expenditures on health.”
The “Drug Policy “of India:
The new ‘Drug Policy’ of India, which is long overdue, should address all these key issues, as articulated by ‘The Lancet’. Unfortunately, outdated ‘1995 Drug Policy’ is still operational, since last fifteen years. The reason for inordinate delay in putting a new, robust and more reform oriented ‘Drug Policy ’in place is still not known to many, as it is probably languishing in the prison of indecision of the bureaucracy of the country.
The ‘Drug Policy 1986’ clearly enunciated the basic policy objectives relating to drugs and pharmaceuticals in India. After around 25 years, should not the government, at the very least, ponder to assess whether the successive drug policies have delivered to the nation the desirable outcome or not?
In my view, the objectives of the new ‘Drug Policy’ should help accelerating the all-round inclusive growth of the Indian pharmaceutical industry to make it a force to reckon with in the global pharmaceutical space. The drug policies are surely not formulated just to implement rigorous price control measures for drugs. The policy should also formulate other key measurable initiatives, assigning specific accountabilities, to contribute significantly towards achieving the healthcare objectives of the nation. The policy should also encourage working closely and in tandem of all the related ministries of the government.
Financial protection against medical expenses for all is very important:
One of the very major issues in the healthcare space of the country is high out of pocket expenses by the majority of our population. “Financial protection against medical expenditures is far from universal with only 10% of the population having medical insurance” in India. (Source: Lancet Jan 11, 2011).
A comparison of private (out of pocket) health expenditure: (Source: Lancet)
1. Pakistan: 82.5% 2. India: 78% 3. China: 61% 4. Sri Lanka: 53% 5. Thailand: 31% 6. Bhutan: 29% 7. Maldives: 14%
The key issue remains unresolved:
The above edition of ‘The Lancet’ has highlighted that outpatient (non-hospitalization) expenses in India is around 74% of the total health expenses in India and the drugs account for 72% of this total outpatient expenditure. The study has also highlighted that 47% and 31% hospitalization in rural and urban areas respectively are financed by loans and sell of assets.
Drug Prices in India:
The cost of medicines, especially the essential medicines in India, is one of the lowest in the world, even more economical than our neighboring countries like, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Moreover, as per DIPP data the inflation index of medicine in 2009 was much lower at 112.32 against the same for all commodities in the same year at 127.47. National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) also indicated that there was almost no rise (+0.5%) of drug prices in 2010 over the previous year because of effective ‘Drug Price Monitoring mechanism’ by the regulator and fierce market competition.
Around 38% – 40% of Indian population can’t afford to spend on medicines:
While framing the ‘Drug Policy’, the government should also keep in mind that a population of around 38 to 40% of India, still lives below the poverty line and will not be able to afford any expenditure towards medicines. Adding more drugs in the list of essential medicines and even bringing them all under stringent price control will not help the country to resolve this important issue, in the prevailing situation.
The key focus area of successive ‘Drug Policies’ of India has been just ‘price’:
The reform initiatives enunciated by the government in the successive drug policies have been considered by the pharmaceutical industry, in general, as far from satisfactory. In the era of globalization, where market forces play a dominant role to control prices, including the essential commodities, the rigors of stringent price control on pharmaceuticals need to be addressed urgently. This was re-enforced even in the ‘National Economic Survey Report of 2009′.
Will continuation of the same focus be able to resolve the issue?
I do not think so. Continuation of the focus on price since last four decades has certainly enabled the government to ensure that drugs prices in India are cheapest in the world. However and very unfortunately the ‘Drug Policies’ with focus on price alone have not been able to ensure even today that 47% and 31% of hospitalization in rural and urban areas, respectively, are financed by robust healthcare financing systems and not by private loans and selling of assets by individuals.
Expectations from the new ‘Drug Policy’:
Adequate and immediate policy measures to respond to the needs of a robust healthcare financing model for all strata of the society are absolutely critical to address this pressing issue. Effective penetration of health insurance, will, therefore, be one of the key growth drivers not only for the Indian pharmaceutical industry, but also to ensure its inclusive growth, as desired by many.
Unfortunately, the ‘Drug Policies’ of India have not been able to keep pace with the globalization process of the country as compared to even those industries, which are dealing with the essential commodities, like pharmaceuticals. The amended Indian Patents Act came into force in the country in January 2005. The drug policy of India, for various reasons, has not been able to articulate, as yet, specific key measures to encourage innovation, giving a new thrust to the pharmaceutical R&D space of the country, as much as it should have been.
The ‘New Drug Policy’ should have clear and transparent provisions of stringent drugs ‘price monitoring’ mechanism by the NPPA. The policy should also include an equally transparent system to ensure that errant pharmaceutical players, if any, who will be caught with profiteering motives, under any garb, at the cost of precious lives of the ailing patients, are brought to justice with exemplary punishments, as will be defined by law.
By: Tapan J 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.