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Cheaper medicines law hasn’t served the poor

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By Satur C. Ocampo

The Philippine Star, Opinion Page

Four years ago last June 6, the Cheaper Medicines Law  (Republic Act 9502, the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008) passed after contentious debates in the 14th Congress, was signed into law by President Gloria M. Arroyo.

R.A. 9502 was intended to achieve two correlated goals:

  1. Reduce the cost of medicines – especially those that are commonly bought by the poor – to 50% of their 2001 prices and make these available nationwide, and
  2. Require and ensure the production of adequate supply, distribution, use and acceptance of medicines identified by their generic names, which are priced much lower than patented drugs mainly produced by multinational corporations.

This second goal was supposed to have been realized through the Generics Act of 1998.  But that law was proven inadequate, thus  R.A. 9502 was enacted to complement it.

Through amendments to the Intellectual Property Code, the 2008 law allows generics-producing firms to test, produce, and register their own versions of patented drugs, and prohibits the grant of new patents based only on newly-discovered uses of a known drug substance.

However, a “rider” provision says that “when the public interest is at stake” – which can be interpreted in varied ways – the government can resort to procuring patented drugs.

When R.A. 9502 was passed, medicine prices in the Philippines were among the highest in Asia:  per an ASEAN survey, 5 out of 9 medicines here cost 40 – 70% higher than those in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

As one solution to the problem, R.A. 9052 gives the President the power to set price ceilings on various drugs, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Health, including medicines for chronic illnesses, for prevention of diseases, and those found in the Philippine National Drug Formulary Essential Drug List.

Moreover, it allows the parallel importation of patented medicines from abroad when these are more affordable than those available domestically.  And to ensure the availability of affordable medicines, the law requires drug outlets to carry a variety of brands for each type, including imported ones, to give the consumers more choices.

After four years of implementation, how far has the Cheaper Medicines Act gone towards attaining the twin goals?

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