GMA drops generics-only provision in medicine bill

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Arroyo has withdrawn the “generics only” provision of the cheaper medicines bill to ensure its passage this month, but has retained the creation of a price control council for both branded and generic medicines.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered the Health Department to take out what she described as the “controversial provision that caused the stalemate” in the bicameral conference, saying a less-than-perfect law was better than a measure that was never passed.

“We don’t want a masterpiece that will never be played. We want something that may be less than perfect but can be carried out,” the President said during the launching of the 11,000th government-run drugstore in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. The Botika ng Barangay stores sell half-priced medicines.

The President’s announcement, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Generics Law yesterday, is expected to convince the bicameral conference committee to pass the bill on its third reading when Congress resumes session on April 21.

The Senate and the House of Representatives are still deadlocked over the controversial provision that requires doctors to prescribe only the generic names of drugs.

Under the existing Generics Law, doctors are only required to write the generics equivalent of any branded medicine that they prescribe.

“My point is, if this will be an obstacle to the passage of the cheaper medicines bill, maybe we can take out that controversial provision. We cannot make the poor and the sick wait much longer,” the President said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he had already submitted a notice to Congress in February formalizing the government’s withdrawal of the provision, but the legislative branch had yet to act on it.

“From what I have gathered, there is a sunshine provision being proposed by some lawmakers, which would entail the deferment of the implementation of the generics-only provision for the next three years. If the other provisions to bring down the prices of medicines are found to be sufficient, then maybe there is no need to impose the generics-only provision at all,” Duque said in an interview.

The bill calls for the creation of a price control council, a regulatory board that will set ceilings on the prices of drugs.

The President also renewed her call on the Health Department and the Philippine International Trading Center, which imports cheap drugs, to continue fighting what she called “a cartel in the medicine industry.”

“There is currently a cartel in the medicine industry with a 70-percent market share. It is controlling the market. At least 90 percent of our medicines now are off-patent, but still 90 percent of the medicines circulating nationwide are branded and are more expensive that their generic counterparts,” she said.

Earlier, Iloilo Rep. Fergenel Biron exposed the P1-billion lobby fund that the pharmaceutical companies had supposedly released to kill the cheap medicine bill.

Mrs. Arroyo also encouraged the public to visit the Botika ng Barangay stalls built in key areas nationwide as the government continued with its parallel importation of cheaper medicines from countries such as India.