Law soon to ensure doctors prescribe cheaper generic drugs: PM


New Delhi, 17.04.17: In a major step to break the nexus between pharmaceutical companies and doctors pushing expensive branded medicines, PM Narendra Modi  on Monday said that the government would put in place a legal framework to ensure doctors prescribe low cost generic medicines to patients.

“Doctors write prescriptions in such a way that poor people do not understand the handwriting and he has to buy that medicine from private stores at high prices,” Modi said while inaugurating a multi-speciality hospital in Surat. “We will bring in a legal framework by which if a doctor writes a prescription, he has to write in it that it will be enough for patients to buy generic medicines and he need not buy any other medicines”.

Experts say more than 70% of the over Rs 1 lakh crore domestic pharmaceutical market is dominated by branded generics, whereas patented drugs make up 9%.

As with demonetisation, the PM sought to underline that he was ready to take on influential interests to push for “pro-poor” causes. “We have done this work, and you can imagine how angry the manufacturers of medicines will be. Despite the wrath of a very powerful lobby, the government is taking one step after another so that poor people and middle class get quality health services,” Modi said.

The PM outlined a series of measures planned by the health ministry in line to regulate cost of medical care in the country with recent price control or caps on medical devices being one such initiative.

The health ministry has recently issued a draft gazette notification making it mandatory for pharma companies to carry generic name of drugs on packs that is at least two fonts larger than the brand name.

“This clause will be a legal provision as a rule under the exisiting Drugs and Cosmetics Act and any violation will be punishable under the provisions of the law,” a senior health ministry official told TOI. The ministry has sought public comments on the draft within 45 days, after which it is likely to become part of the drug law.

Besides, the ministry has also issued orders to the Medical Council of India  (MCI), state governments and all central government hospitals asking them to ensure that doctors write prescriptions with generic names of medicines in legible hand writing.

The move assumes significance as medicines account for 70-75% of a household’s out of pocket expenditure on health. While generic medicines are good quality low cost drugs with equal efficacy as branded drugs, doctors and chemists often push the more expensive alternatives.

Despite stringent price control, big pharma companies manage to spend exorbitantly on marketing and branding of their drugs. Since advertisement of prescription medicines are not allowed in India, companies or medical representatives push their products through doctors, chemists and distributors in lieu of freebies, junkets and incentives.

Modi said his government brought in a health policy after 15 years and capped the prices of medicines and stents, which has not gone down well with some pharmaceutical companies.

“In our country doctors are less, hospitals are less and medicines are expensive. If one person falls ill in a middle class family, then the financial health of the family gets wrecked. He cannot buy a house, cannot conduct the marriage of daughter,” Modi said, adding the government’s responsibility is that everybody should get health services at minimal price.

In last three years, the government has capped prices of around 700 essential medicines. It has also capped prices of stents and is working to make drugs for critical diseases like cancer and heart disorders available through various schemes. It has also launched several programmes to make free drugs and diagnostics available under the National Health Mission.

Modi assured the government will continue to take steps in welfare of common man and take steps to make healthcare affordable despite an opposition for the pharma industry.

He said he is committed to providing affordable healthcare for the poor and the middle class. Calling for focus on preventive healthcare, the Prime Minister said that the  Swachh Bharat Abhiyan  is linked to efforts towards a healthier India.