UPDATE: Noy Oplas' paper Making Medicines Cheaper: the Role of Innovation, Competition and Taxation should be read in full by anyone who really wants to understand the issues surrounding the so called Cheaper Medicines Bill (ratified today by the Congress bicameral committee and likely to be signed into law in the next few days). Here is his Conclusion section (please pass until Mar Roxas and Pia Cayetano see this!)
When the legislators who are in the frontline now telling the public that their legislation can indeed bring down the prices of medicines, run for the same or higher offices in 2010, they and the public will be in for a big disappointment. And the same legislators who were in the frontline enacting said legislation will be forced to look for another set of scapegoats since the public will ask them why prices of quality and safe medicines are still high.
ho could possibly be against the idea of lower prices for life-saving medicines? Especially after it has been suggested that the cause of high medicine prices are those greedy capitalist pigs with their imperialist intellectual property rights protection laws! Look, they say, at marvelous India, where they've dispensed with such crass Western ideas as patent protection for inventions and discoveries and so you can buy Norvasc there at ten times lower price than in the Philippines. The main proponent of the alleged cheaper medicines bill about to be signed into law by President Arroyo, Sen. Mar Roxas said on radio today that it would bring about cheaper medicines for the poor in three ways: (1) parallel importation from places like India would create competitive pressures and force "foreign drug companies" (read American and European) to lower their prices; (2) "reform" in intellectual property rights protection would "encourage" and "strengthen" the generics drugs industry by breaking "unfair" patent monopolies and extensions of patent protection; and (3) price regulation would set "maximum retail prices" for a list of commonly used drugs.
To me, this is an example of lethal demagoguery that will lead to cheaper fake medicines that will kill or seriously harm many innocent people, and more expensive real medicines that will truly be out of the reach of poor people.
I agree with Bienvenido Oplas Jr. of the NGO Minimal Government Thinkers who enumerates some pertinent and eye-opening facts: (1) Only one percent of the World Health Organization's "Essential Medicines List" is presently under patent protection, which means Mar is all wet on this since the generics drugs industry can already produce 99% of those essential medicines without worrying about those nasty imperialist protectors of IPR; (2) 30% of drugs sold in developing countries are fake or low dose versions of the real thing, with India's much vaunted "independent" drug industry producing much of the 42% of drugs sold in India that are fake. (3) Taxes and import duties are a main reason for the high price of medicines, not patent protection, which is necessary to keep the flow of important new medicines coming, given that in the US it costs an average of $800 million in R&D, marketing and regulatory costs to bring a new molecule to market.
Given the penchant of Filipinos for fake DVDs, fake watches, fake brand name blue jeans, and even fake fake knockoffs of the real things, they are likely to think that fake medicines are just as good as fake digital copies of the real things. Combined with the euphemism of "parallel importation" (read hundreds of viajeras going to India and coming back with suitcases of pseudo Norvasc and other "killer medicines"), I think we have the recipe for another spectacular government sponsored social disaster. Without a massive government testing and quality control program for hundreds or maybe thousands of new drugs and multifarious or unknown sources and manufacturers of them, parallel importers may as well import rat poison and dispense them through the upcoming Price Regulatory Board instead of putting people through a regime of quite possibly fake or under-dose meds.
Years from now, after the toll in death and suffering this misbegotten legislation will have caused, I wonder if anyone will remember what remarkable idealism, and anti-Western indignation accompanied its accursed birth.
The bill's supporters may claim to be choosing "patients over patents" but in the light of the facts they are really choosing "fakes over patients" whose real costs are infinitely higher than what is paid for high quality meds.
Philosophically, I am also opposed to the idea of price regulation for medicine that sets maximum retail prices for drugs, because it will only legitimize the market for fake or underdose generic drugs by supplying a Suggested Retail Prices even for them.!