After a long wait of close to two decades, when the Drug Price Control Order 2013 (DPCO 2013) followed the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy 2012 (NPPP 2012) last year, it appeared that the new pharma price control regime is more acceptable to the industry than the previous, resulting in better over all implementation and compliance.
However, just within a year, the reality seems to be quite different. Not only the Ceiling Price (CP) calculation process of the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) based on DPCO 2013 appears to be fundamentally flawed, its misuse and abuse by some pharma players have also been the subject of great concern and consumer aghast.
The eternal ‘Cat and Mouse’ game continues:
Probably there would be many instances of pharmaceutical companies dodging the DPCO 2013. However, FDA, Maharashtra, has unearthed the following two instances, so far:
1. Favorable consumer expectations with well-hyped DPCO 2013 received a body blow for the first time, when the general public came to know through media reports, that too after almost a year, that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare having launched its new ‘Crocin Advance’ 500 mg with a higher price of Rs 30 for a strip of 15 tablets, has planned to gradually withdraw its conventional price controlled Crocin 500 mg brand costing around Rs 14 for a strip of 15 tablets to the patients . GSK Consumer Healthcare claims that Crocin Advance is a new drug and therefore should be outside price control.
According to IMS Health data, ‘Crocin Advance’ is currently the fifth largest brand among top Paracetamol branded generics, clocking a sales turnover of Rs 10.3 Crore during the last 12 months ending in February 2014.
2. The second instance of evading DPCO 2013 has also been reported by the media. In this case some other pharmaceutical companies have reportedly started selling the anti-lipid drug Atorvastatin in dosage forms of 20 mg and 40 mg, which are outside price control, instead of its price controlled 10 mg dosage form. Quoting the Maharashtra FDA, the report states: “Atorvastatin may face a similar kind of action from the state FDA as other overpriced brands of drugs as this drug has been overpriced five to 10 times more than the DPCO price. This kind of overcharging is a subject for investigation. Atorvastatin of 40 mg dosage is generally recommended for senior citizens.”
Tip of an Iceberg?
All these seem to be just the tip of an iceberg related to evasion of DPCO 2013 by some pharma black ships, raising costs of essential medicines for the patients. Ironically, what is happening now is an exact replica of the same old strategy that many pharma players got involved into to avoid price control under earlier DPCO 1995. Continuation of the same act of deceit with DPCO 2013 confirms that the ‘cat and mouse game’ to avoid price control is eternal in India, in the absence of any strong and exemplary deterrent.
Better late than never:
When Maharashtra FDA brought it to the notice of National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), the later asked GSK to immediately reduce the market price of ‘Crocin Advance’, as there is no proven additional therapeutic efficacy for the product. The price regulator also sought confirmation of the action taken by the company in this regard. Additionally, GSK Consumer Healthcare now faces consequential punitive measures from the NPPA for price overcharging. This action on the part of NPPA, in all probability, would get lost in the quagmire of litigation, as usually happens in India.
Be that as it may, I expect NPPA taking similar action for Atorvastatin too and increasing its vigil for such scant respect on patient-centric laws and policies of the country.
A brief recapitulation:
Just to recapitulate, DPCO 2013 has been fundamentally different from its ‘predecessor’ DPCO 1995, mainly on the following two counts:
1. Methodology of Price Control:
This has changed from earlier ‘Cost Based Pricing (CBP)’ to ‘Market Based Pricing (MBP)’ based on simple average of all products having 1 percent or more market share.
2. Span of Price Control:
In DPCO 1995, all formulations of 74 bulk drugs, selected based on specified criteria, were under cost based price control, covering over 1700 formulations. Whereas, in DPCO 2013 all essential drugs as mentioned in the National List of Essential Medicines 2011 (NLEM 2011) come under price control applying the above new methodology of MBP. DPCO 2013 brings around 652 formulations of 348 drugs under 27 therapeutic segments of the NLEM 2011, under price control.
Significant benefits of DPCO 2013 to the industry:
DPCO 2013 offers following three key advantages to the industry, both in the short and longer term:
- MBP methodology in DPCO 2013 is considered by the industry as more transparent and less ‘intrusive’ than CBP methodology.
- Span of price control with DPCO 2013 came down to 18 percent of the total pharmaceutical market covering around 610 formulations, as against 20 percent in DPCO 1995 covering over 1700 formulations.
- Opportunity for automatic annual price increase for controlled formulations based on WPI, which was not there in DPCO 1995, is now available to the industry. Thus, in keeping with the relevant provision of DPCO 2013, NPPA has recently allowed the drug companies to increase the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of the price controlled medicines, contributing 18 percent of the total market, by 6.32 percent effective April 1, 2014, while prices of balance 82 percent of drugs, that are outside price control, can go up by 10 percent every year.
Check on essential drugs going out of market:
Interestingly, DPCO 2013 has tried to prevent any possibility of an essential drug going out of the market without the knowledge of NPPA by incorporating the following provision in the order:
“Any manufacturer of scheduled formulation, intending to discontinue any scheduled formulation from the market shall issue a public notice and also intimate the Government in Form-IV of schedule-II of this order in this regard at least six month prior to the intended date of discontinuation and the Government may, in public interest, direct the manufacturer of the scheduled formulation to continue with required level of production or import for a period not exceeding one year, from the intended date of such discontinuation within a period of sixty days of receipt of such intimation.”
However, it is still not clear, whether or not GSK Consumer Healthcare had followed this stipulated provision for price controlled conventional Crocin formulations. At least, I do not remember having come across any such public notice, as yet.
Key concerns expressed with DPCO 2013:
The MBP methodology seems to be unique to India as CBP is more common in countries that follow drug price control. Hence the following concerns were expressed with DPCO 2013.
- Reduction in drug prices with market-based pricing methodology is significantly less than the cost based ones. Hence, consumers will be much less benefitted with the new system.
- Earlier cost based pricing system was not more transparent only because a large section from the industry reportedly did not co-operate with the NPPA in providing cost details, as required by them.
- Serious apprehensions have been expressed about the quality of outsourced market data lacking adequate confidence level across the board, which now forms the basis of CP calculations.
- Additionally, outsourced data would provide details only of around 480 out of 652 NLEM formulations. How will the data for remaining products be obtained and with what level of accuracy?
It is, therefore, believed now by many that DPCO 2013 is more of an outcome of a successful lobbying efforts of the pharmaceutical industry in India, rather than a robust pricing policy supported by a flawless methodology for CP calculations.
DPCO 2013 faces challenge in the Supreme Court:
As a result of the above apprehensions, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is now pending before the Supreme Court for hearing challenging DPCO 2013.
Ground Zero of the quality of outsourced market data:
While assessing from the ‘Ground Zero’, keeping aside instances of hoodwinking DPCO 2013 with tweaked formulations, the core issue of the quality of outsourced market data forming the bedrock of CP calculation by the NPPA, undoubtedly becomes more fundamental, creating huge discomfort for many pharma players .
Unlike DPCO 1995, where NPPA used to calculate the CP based on its own audits, data provided by the concerned companies and from many other reliable market sources, the calculations to arrive at the CP for DPCO 2013 products are based predominantly on data outsourced from IMS Health, if not solely.
IMS data does not always capture correct brand prices:
As stated above, many leading pharmaceutical companies are now reportedly pointing out repeatedly that the CP fixation by the NPPA is not accurate, as the IMS Health data does not represent the real prices in many cases.
This is not a new issue either. I have been hearing similar complaints since ages in different forum, wearing different hats and also from various other reliable industry sources. Moreover, NPPA and the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) have indicated several times in the past that IMS data do not capture the requisite details as needed for over 100 products featured in NLEM 2011.
According to Pharmabiz of April 2, 2014, some of the companies expressing the above apprehensions are Sun Pharma, Unichem Labs, Panacea Biotec, Win-Medicare, Albert David, Baxter (India), Indi Pharma and Gland Pharma.
Responding to such widespread complaints, the DoP has directed NPPA to revalidate the IMS data, now being used for CP calculations, for all notified medicines. Accordingly, NPPA has sought the relevant details from respective companies. However, till such data validation takes place, pharma players must comply with all CPs, as notified by the NPPA from time to time.
Difficulty in data validation:
In my view, it would not be easy for the NPPA to revalidate the IMS data due to the following reasons:
- Those companies, whose prices are showing higher than the current ones in the IMS Health data, may not report to NPPA, as that could ultimately affect them adversely.
- Pharma companies’ response, in general, to requests from NPPA for furnishing cost and price related information has traditionally been much less than encouraging.
The logjam to continue:
With this evolving scenario, I reckon, till the Supreme Court intervenes responding to the PIL on DPCO 2013 related issues, the dissatisfaction of the industry and the constraints of the NPPA would continue, patients being the primary sufferers.
Despite the reported concern expressed in the 2014 National Trade Estimate (NTE) Report on Foreign Trade Barriers over the Indian drug price control mechanisms as a deterrent to foreign investments, government price control for essential medicines in India is here to stay for a long haul, to uphold the patients’ health interest.
That said, the final verdict of the Supreme Court related to the PIL on the NPPP 2012, based on which DPCO 2013 has been worked out, is yet to come. Any unfavorable decision of the Honorable Court on the subject may push both the NPPP 2012 and DPCO 2013 back to square one, yet again.
In this backdrop, considering the key fundamental flaw in the CP calculation process of DPCO 2013 with associated loud hiccups as evidenced by the GSK Consumer Healthcare episode and others, would a well-considered verdict of the Supreme Court on the subject be more desirable for greater access to more affordable essential drugs by the patients in India?
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.