Press Release
January 18, 2009


Vital medicines, especially maintenance drugs, can be made more affordable if the Department of Health (DOH) will fully exercise its powers to moderate prices of medicines, Liberal President Senator Mar Roxas said today.

Roxas said the DoH has the authority under the Universally Accessible, Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008 to establish maximum retail prices for important medicines such as maintenance drugs sold in pharmacies nationwide.

Based on this maximum retail price list, the DOH can order government hospitals to stop buying medicines that do not fall within the price ceiling while the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. or Philhealth, which provides universal health insurance, can also be directed to reimburse expenses for medicines only if it falls also under that price band, the senator added.

Medicines sold in the 1,800 Botika ng Bayan outlets nationwide should also be subject to the maximum retail price set by the DOH, Roxas said.

By exercising this power effectively, the government will create a strong market presence that will force big pharmaceutical companies to lower prices of their own brand of medicines or face losing customers, he stressed.

"Kailangang siguruhin ng DoH na maayos nitong maipatutupad ang batas. At dahil binigyan ito ng karapatang kontrolin ang presyo ng mga gamot na ibebenta sa mga botika, sana ay hindi ito magpadala sa mga lobbying o impluwensiya ng malalaking kumpanya ng gamot na tuloy-tuloy ang pagharang sa pagpapatupad ng batas (The DOH should make sure that it can properly implement the law. Since the law gave it the power to control prices of medicines, it should not be swayed by the lobbying of big drug companies who have always fought against the law)," he said.

Roxas, principal author in the Senate of the new law, said the public is eagerly awaiting the DOH's implementation of its power to set maximum prices because the economic problems that has hit millions of Filipinos have made daily medication for sick members of their family, including the senior citizens, more burdensome.

"The government is the representative of the people. The only people you must be fair to are the consumers of medicines," Roxas said, and not the big pharmaceutical companies that lobbied hard to stop the passage of the law and tried to water down its provisions during the deliberations on its implementing rules.

At the same time, Roxas said the government should ensure that more Botika ng Bayan outlets are put up nationwide to serve all communities and not just the urban areas.

The Botika ng Bayan outlets could also provide a strong competition to big pharmacies if the DOH will make sure that medicines sold in those outlets are subject to the maximum retail price ceiling.

The Ilonggo senator recalled that the prices of vital medicines in Botika ng Barangay were really very cheap when he started the program during his stint as secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Unfortunately, medicine prices went up in these outlets when the program was re-launched as Botika ng Bayan stores, causing dismay and prompting many to shift back to big pharmacies again.

"Kaya parang nawala yung direksyon ng Botika ng Bayan (That was why the Botika ng Bayan seemed to have failed). For the system and the government to continue to allow the charging of expensive medicine is in the nature of qualified theft. We are allowing the taking of this money from poor people's pockets for what they can't afford, when in fact an equivalent but cheaper medicine is already available," he said.

"Marami sa mga sinasabi ng gobyerno ay propaganda lang. Mayroon ngang Botika ng Bayan, wala namang gamot, walang supply. Mayroong sinasabing ganito, ganoon, wala namang implementasyon. Kailangan nating kulitin, kalampagin ang gobyerno, para maisakatuparan itong Quality Affordable Medicines Law (Many of what the government is saying are mere propaganda. There maybe Botika ng Bayan outlets but many of these do not have medicines, they do not have supplies. They say one this and that but they're really not administering the law. That's why we have to rattle the government and demand that it properly implements the Quality Affordable Medicines law)," he said.

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