A recent step being planned by the health ministry might very soon bring some relief for cancer patients and their families, as the government is planning to make drugs for cancer treatment available at significantly cheaper rates. The plan is likely to be finalised by the end of this year.
Medicines and medical devices for the treatment of cancer are highly expensive, and it is extremely difficult for many patients to afford them. However, with the current efforts of the health ministry, these medicines and high end medical devices like stents, might soon be available at lower prices.
The ministry is working on a plan which will make it possible for them to purchase the drugs in bulk at negotiated price, and then supply them to hospitals and individual patients.
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Thus, the ministry is planning to reduce the cost of expensive medicines, while putting the least pressure on pharmaceutical companies in terms of the price margins. This model will result in the government’s own retail system for cancer drugs, like the ‘Jan Aushadhi’ stores, where generic medicines are sold at much lower prices compared to the branded ones. This way the government plans to ‘ensure availability of quality medicines at affordable prices to all’.
As of now, the government is conducting talks with various companies to take the plan forward. This step has been taken, keeping in mind the fact that many health experts, oncologists and institutes like Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital have suggested that prices of more drugs for treatment of cancer should be regulated by the government. Presently, the cost of only 51 such drugs are under price control of the government.
However, bringing the drugs and medical devices directly under price regulation would mean capping the prices of pharmaceutical companies. While this was the initial plan of the ministry, it faced a lot of opposition from the department of pharmaceuticals which pointed out that the price margins for manufacturers are already being squeezed and this could lead to many restrictions when it comes to introduction of new drugs in the country.
Hence the government decided to go with the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) kind of model, which was started with the view of providing comprehensive medical care facilities (dispensaries, consultation by specialists, supply of medicines at negotiated costs, etc.) to Central Government employees, pensioners and their dependents. According to the new model, the medicines feature of this scheme will be extended to other cancer patients as well.
With this model, not only will the cost margins be protected for pharmaceutical companies, but they will also be free of the threat of compulsory licencing which allows other companies to manufacture patented drugs in public interest, without the need of any consent of the patent owners. Many companies in the country faced this thread when generic drug manufacturers claimed that patented cancer treatment drugs could be made and sold at much lower prices.
The government regulates the prices of 348 medicine formulations. These prices are fixed by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority. Other than these drugs, the manufacturers can increase the cost of all others, but the annual increase is fixed at 10%. Medical devices like stents do not come under any regulations, and only those which are supplied under CGHS come with negotiated prices.
The proposal is likely to be finalised by the end of this year.