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Meds cheaper by up to 58% as government imposes price cap

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has issued an executive order cutting the retail prices of 87 drugs and medicines by up to 58%.

Executive Order No. 104, which the President signed on February 17, 2020, imposes a cap on the prices of medicine by setting a maximum retail price, maximum wholesale price or both on medicines for hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other common illnesses of Filipinos.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III, in a press conference on February 18, said he will issue an administrative order to implement the President’s directive.

“We will immediately issue an Administrative Order to ensure the effective implementation of the EO on MDRP and disseminate the implementing guidelines to stakeholders. Violations of the price caps will be dealt with in accordance with the Cheaper Medicines Act and other relevant laws together with the DTI and the FDA,” he said.

EO 104 covers 87 drug molecules or 133 drug formulas that meet the following criteria: drugs that address the health priorities of the general public especially those that account for the leading causes of morbidity and mortality; drugs that have high price differentials/arbitrage compared to international prices; drugs that have limited competition in terms of lack of generic counterparts or lack of market access to these products; and drugs where the innovator product is the most expensive yet most prescribed and/or dispensed in the market.

Duque said the ceiling prices for the 87 medicines (with 133 formulations) at the point of wholesale and retail will be imposed in both public and private drug retail outlets including chain and independent drugstores, hospital pharmacies, health maintenance organizations and other outlets within 90 days. The MDRP is still subject to special discounts to senior citizens and persons with disability.

A technical working group composed of Department of Health and Department of Trade and Industry representatives will review within 30 days the prices of 35 drug molecules or 72 drug formulas included in the DOH proposal for price regulation.

Duque said the approval of DOH’s proposal to cut prices of drugs and medicines will help achieve universal health care.

Prices of medicine were supposed to have been reduced when the value-added tax (VAT) was removed under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act that took effect on January 1, 2019.

Section 84 of TRAIN, or Republic Act No. 10963, provides that the sale of drugs and medicine prescribed for the treatment and/or prevention of diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension are exempted from the value-added tax (VAT).

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Pharmacies, however, have found a way to circumvent the law by maintaining prices of medicine and simply indicating in the receipt that these are VAT-exempt.

Duque noted that a Pulse Asia survey in 2019 showed that 99% of Filipinos do not buy all of their prescribed medicines because of the high prices.

“With the limited ability of many Filipinos to support even their basic needs, how can they even pay for expensive medications which could amount to Php 5 million to treat cancer, for example? We cannot accept these sky-high prices as the norm. The industry and health institutions must be socially responsible and ensure that medicines are within reach of the ordinary Filipino,” Duque said. (Ventures Cebu)

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