Monday, September 20, 2021

No regulation

Editorial 2

Today pharma and health sector is driving health care inflation upwards to the discomfort of consumers and that too in a situation when most people are in dire economic stress due to the Covid-19 pandemic and curbs imposed. Since life on medicines is as good as life on a ventilator, the consumers have no option but to fall in line with the arbitrary price regime of the pharma and healthcare players to survive. Lack of regulation has paved way to unchecked increase in prices of medicines and health services. In fact, the healthcare industry, especially in private sector, has developed a habit to drive the prices upwards at regular intervals, which is hardly questioned by authorities and not even resisted by consumers (patients). Ask any healthcare institutions about the reason of mounting charges; they would brush it aside by saying ‘what is the problem if patients are ready to pay?’ Everyone understands that a serious and life-threatening illness turns the situation traumatic. Everything else one is worrying about in life suddenly becomes unimportant. The only thing that could make it worst is managing the expenses of treatment of the illness. Fear looms large that the expenses will leave the patient personally responsible for huge bills that could wipe out all the life time savings. Of course, tremendous advances in medical technology and war on deadly diseases through new medicines have been a boon. The world of medical science celebrates when they invade a deadly human consuming disease by inventing dependable treatment protocol. But the benefits of the inventions in medical sciences hardly percolate to the grass root level where populations are at higher risk to contract any disease. Today, it’s a common sight to see most people unable to afford even conventional treatments in government hospitals where treatment doses are available at subsidized prices. Let’s pick a very common scenario from our state. There are instances in abundance when even a financially sound family had to sell-off their assets to meet treatment expenses. Any savings become first casualty when it comes to availing healthcare facilities – be it diagnostic tests or purchase of medicines. Not only savings go, money is borrowed to foot the medical bills. We have innumerable cases across the state where a family with a meager of monthly income is forced to shell out over Rs 50,000 for medicines and for each round of chemotherapy and radiation of an ailing family member suffering from cancer! In this huge financial imbalance, majority of the ailing population are forced to go for a fatalistic surrender to destiny. Today the cost of healthcare services, including cost of medicines, is uncontrolled and drug dealers/retailers most of the time resort to profiteering. Current medicine pricing is only condemning patients to death. Even as you see cost of medicine plainly displayed on the cover of the medicine, the actual cost price of the drug remains invisible. It’s wrapped in so many layers like maximum retail price (MRP) that almost no one understands what’s really happening. The MRP printed on most of the drugs or a healthcare article is already loaded with unbelievable margins ranging from 100 to 1000%! Over the last few years, we’ve come across dozens of cancer patients struggling for want of finances and succumbing to the disease midway of treatment protocol. There are innumerable instances when the high cost of anti-cancer drugs consumed the life of a cancer patient more than the disease itself. Every unit responsible for pricing and distribution of anti-cancer drugs like stockists, retailers, carrying and forwarding agencies and other liaison agents are involved in the loot. The daredevilry of the traders can be gauged from the fact that even those drugs, whose prices are ceiled as per the Drug Pricing Control Order (DPCO) decided by the National Pricing Pharmaceutical Authority, are being sold at two to ten times of the original cost whereas DPCO rules state that they cannot be sold at a profit margin of more than 16%. Why are anti-cancer medicines so expensive in our place? There is an urgent need for the government to bring parity in cost of medicines and healthcare services. Otherwise, current pricing is only condemning patients to death. Let’s hope the government comes out with strategies that would ensure affordable healthcare costs and well guarded health portfolio across populations in the state.