The New Government To Ponder: Is “Market Based Drug Pricing Policy” An ill Conceived One?

According to a recent media report, Mr. Ananth Kumar, the new minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers has recently made a statement, as follows:

“… As far as branded medicines of multinational pharmaceutical companies are concerned, we will talk to all of them and try to bring down prices of essential drugs for poor by 25-40 per cent… The pharmaceutical industry is very important for the health of the country, he added…our main mission will be to ensure the availability of all necessary medicines at affordable prices, especially for poor across the country.”

This statement assumes great significance for the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry and simultaneously rekindles hope for many patients, as the minister expressed intent that the new government wants to revisit the current drug price control system of India.

However, why did the minister in his above statement single out MNCs for discussion, is not very clear, just yet. Most probably, this is due to much published reports that branded generics from MNCs, which are outside price control, usually cost more than others, for whatever may be the reasons. Anyway, that could be the topic of another discussion in this blog.

The backdrop of DPCO 2013:

After a protracted negotiation and lobbying by the Indian Pharma Industry and others with the then UPA II Government, a well sought after paradigm shift took place in the drug price control regime of India.

In the new “National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy 2012”, the span of price control was changed from bulk-drug based to all drug formulations falling under the ‘National List of Essential Medicines 2011 (NLEM 2011)’. The methodology of price control was also radically modified from the cost-based to market based one. Accordingly the new Drug Price Control Order (DPCO 2013) was notified on May 15, 2013.

The decision to have new drug policy was taken as a last minute sprint, as it were, primarily driven by the immense pressure generated by the Supreme Court on the UPA II Government for pussyfooting this important issue over almost a decade.

Hurried action after prolonged inaction:

The last Drug Policy of India was announced in 2002, which was subsequently challenged by a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Karnataka High Court on the ground of being inflationary in nature. The Honorable Court by its order dated November 12, 2002 issued a stay on the implementation of the Policy.

This judgment was challenged by the Government in the Supreme Court, which vacated the stay vide its order dated March 10, 2003 and ordered as follows:

“We suspend the operation of the order to the extent it directs that the Policy dated February 15, 2002 shall not be implemented. However we direct that the petitioner shall consider and formulate appropriate criteria for ensuring essential and lifesaving drugs not to fall out of the price control and further directed to review drugs, which are essential and lifesaving in nature till 2nd May, 2003”.

As a result, DPCO 1995 continued to remain in operation pending formulation of a new drug policy as directed by the honorable court, since then.

Unfortunately, the then government did not show any urgency to come out with a new drug policy, even thereafter, for about a decade.

Fortunately, in the recent years, coming under intense judicial scrutiny and pressure due to a PIL on the subject before the Supreme Court of India, the then Government was compelled to come out with the New National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy 2012 (NPPP 2012), rather hurriedly, effective December 7, 2012.

That was the ‘grand beginning’ of a new paradigm of ‘market-based’ drug price control regime in India.

Hype and rapid disillusionment:

Many stakeholders, barring some NGOs, felt at that time that DPCO 2013 could be a win-win strategy for both the industry and patients, as it would apparently be less intrusive for the pharma players.

Along side, through ‘Public Relations’ overdrive, hype was created by vested interests to generate a feeling that the drug prices are coming down by 30-40 percent, as a result of the new market-based price control regime.

That could well be true for a handful of drugs, but the fact is that the industry was adversely impacted by around 2.3 percent and the span of price control came down from 20 percent of the just pervious DPCO 1995 to 18 percent in DPCO 2013, not impacting the industry as much as it was hyped before.

Realization of these facts was just enough for the public disillusionment to set in.

Questions started popping-up almost immediately:

Unfortunately, many key questions started popping-up just at the very onset of its implementation process. Besides many others, some basic questions raised on DPCO 2013, a good number of which went into litigations and/or departmental reviews, are as follows:

  • Implementability of new ‘Ceiling Prices (CP)’ for market stocks within 45 days of notification by the respective companies.
  • Criteria of calculation of 1 percent market share for brands.
  • How would already existing different drug delivery systems of the same drug substance be considered to work out a common CP?
  • How reliable is the IMS Data, based on which CP calculation would be done by the NPPA?
  • What will happen to those NLEM 2011 drugs for which IMS does not provide any information?

Erstwhile Finance Ministry wanted to continue with cost plus formula:

When the new draft National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy (NPPP) had gone for comments from various ministries of UPA II Government, the key recommendations of the then Ministry of Finance were reportedly 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.

Current imbroglio over ceiling price fixation:

A recent media report highlighted that even almost 15 months after the announcement of DPCO 2013, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) fails to fix prices of 111 scheduled formulations due to scanty available information.

According to this report, though NPPA has revised prices of over 400 formulations out of around 652 as per DPCO 2013, it has now come out with a list of 103 formulations for which prices could not be fixed due to insufficient information. Besides, it could not fix the prices of eight more formulations, as the NLEM 2011 did not provide required information, such as, strength, route of administration and dosage form.

Thus, it appears that required price control of essential drugs as per DPCO 2013 is in a limbo today because of serious implementability issues, over and above its other (de)merits, as discussed above.

The fundamental question:

The fundamental question that is now being raised by many is, whether from patients point of new there was any need to change from ‘Cost Based Price Control (CBPC)’ to the new ‘Market Based Price Control (MBPC)’ system?

As a result, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is still pending before the Supreme Court challenging DPCO 2013.

This judicial scrutiny could put the MBPC concept in jeopardy, placing the pharma price control system back to CBPC mode, unless the new government takes a pre-emptive strategic move well before hand.

The New Minister’s recent statement rekindles hope for action:

There are now more reasons to justify why the new Minister Mr. Ananth Kumar should revisit MBPC mechanism, sooner. As I wrote in one of my earlier blog post that “The New ‘Market Based Pricing Model’ is Fundamentally Flawed”.

Conclusion:

From the statements of the new Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers herein, and also the new Health Minister, as quoted in my last blog post, it appears that the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) would continue to remain with the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, at least for some more time. This is quite contrary to the general expectations that DoP would be a part of the Ministry of Health in the new regime.

That said, besides full implementability of DPCO 2013 for all essential drugs, the Ceiling Price (CP) calculation methodology also appears to be fundamentally flawed, its misuse and abuse by some pharma players, as highlighted in my earlier blog post, have also been a subject of great concern and consumer aghast.

With this rapidly evolving scenario, unless the new minister Ananth Kumar steps in to sort out the conundrum with deft handling, unlike his almost defunct predecessor in UPA II, or till the Supreme Court intervenes responding to the PIL on DPCO 2013 related issues, the growing dissatisfaction of the affected section of stakeholders and the constraints of the NPPA would continue to linger, poor patients being the ultimate sufferers.

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.

 

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