The Philippines’ government has accepted the price cuts offered by drugmakers for 14 of the country’s 21 most commonly-prescribed medicines, and will reduce the prices of the other seven by Executive Order (EO).

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will sign the EO tomorrow (July 22) and the prices of all 21 drugs will be halved by August 15, say government officials.

13 companies submitted voluntary price reductions, but only just over half of them fully complied with the government’s demand for price cuts of 50% or more. For seven of the products, they offered reductions averaging 30%-35%, which the government has dismissed, and these medicines will now be subject to Maximum Retail Prices (MRP).

Only one of the products whose price is to be cut by the EO has been named – the antihypertensive amlodipine – but the others include two anti-infectives, one cholesterol-lowerer, two anticancer drugs and a treatment for diabetes, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque.

Some firms offered the government the alternative of 50% cuts in the prices of 12 other medicines in exchange for reducing those on the list by 30%-35%, but this proposal has also been rejected. Moreover, at least one of the products submitted in this alternative offer is no longer on the market, commented Robert Louie So, programme manager of the drug policy unit at the Department of Health.

11 of the 13 companies submitting voluntary compliance lists to the government are members of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which said that it could not have required all the firms to offer the same price reductions as this could have produced accusations of price-fixing.
The PHAP also defended the companies’ offer of price cuts on other drugs not on the government’s list, claiming that this would have provided “greater access to quality medicines for Filipinos, especially the poor, as the offer contains a more comprehensive list of medicines used by majority of the population for greater impact particularly on lower-income Filipino patients. “

The companies’ offer could reduce their sales by as much as 10 billion pesos a year, added the industry group, but officials point out that the 21 drugs on the government list have long been sold in the Philippines at prices up to 200% higher than in other Southeast Asian countries, plus India and Pakistan.

Pfizer “bribe” claim moves on

Meantime, the chairman of the committee on trade in the Philippines’ Senate has asked the US government for assistance in dealing with what he alleges are unethical actions by Pfizer aimed at defeating the Cheaper Medicines Law, which Pres Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law last year.

In letters sent yesterday (July 20) to Mark Mendelson of the US Department of Justice and John Cobau of the US Department of Commerce, Senator Mar Roxas writes: “The persistence with which Pfizer has been blocking and fighting the Philippine government is extremely alarming. In fact, I believe that their acts are unethical and violate not only Philippine Anti-Corruption Laws but also the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” under which it is “unlawful to make a corrupt payment to a foreign national for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business.”
Sen Roxas has also written to Pfizer requesting complete documents and records relating to its pricing discussions with government officials and other companies, and says that if these are not forthcoming, the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Quality Affordable Medicine, which he co-chairs, will issue a subpoena.