Cheap medicines bill OKd

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — AFTER three years, hundreds of hours of debates, four months of negotiations to reconcile its conflicting versions and last-minute objections, the cheaper medicines bill was ratified by both Chambers of Congress last night.

The proposed measure, officially called Universally Accepted Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008, is ready for signing into law by President Arroyo tomorrow as government’s Labor Day gift for Filipino workers.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve the bicameral conference committee report and a visibly elated Senator Mar Roxas, its principal author, said that “at last, it’s done… but the work isn’t over yet.”

“We’re hopeful that this will lead towards a lowering of prices of medicine. This is not the be-all and end-all towards providing our people affordable, quality medicines and health care, but certainly this is an important final step,” said Roxas, chairman of the committee on trade and commerce, and chairman of the Senate panel in the bicameral committee.

Even with concerns raised by some congressmen that the final version may not lead to reduced prices for medicine, the House of Representatives voted to adopt the committee report through viva voce.

This despite claims by some of the authors of the measure that the removal of the provisions for “generics only” prescriptions and the creation of a drug price regulatory board to monitor and set price ceilings for medicine had emasculated the bill to favor multinational drug companies.

Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong, the House’s deputy speaker for Mindanao, presided over the ratification, where the House in effect gave in to the hard-line stance of the Senate to do away with the two salient features of the bill.

Iloilo Reps. Ferjenel Biron Biron and Janette Garin, both doctors, earlier clashed with senators led by Roxas and Senator Pia Cayetano over the deletion of the two controversial provisions, saying prices of medicine can never be affordable without any regulatory body keeping an eye on the industry.

House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, who conceded defeat, said, “How do we ensure that branded medicines will be made cheaper? Take a look at the law six months from now. In the end I will be proven right.”

As approved, the measure seeks to encourage increased competition by strengthening the domestic generics industry through an amendment of the Intellectual Property Code as a way to lower the prices of medicine.

A feature of the bill is the price monitoring and control mechanism where maximum prices for medicine are set as recommended by the secretary of health and approved by the President.

The bill aims to promote parallel importation of drugs partly through amendments to the Intellectual Property Cod