Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor has called for greater transparency in the pricing of medicines in the Philippines, saying it was unacceptable that the country’s expected medical inflation this year of 13.7 percent was more than double the full-year average inflation of 5.2 percent in 2018.
The medical inflation forecast is also more than 300 percent higher than this year’s expected average inflation, pegged at 2.7 percent by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
“Immediate interventions must be implemented. Filipinos have been suffering, dying even, because of the prohibitive cost of healthcare,” Defensor said, adding that at least 60 percent of sick Filipinos die without even being able to see a doctor.
“We want to know why we have a double-digit medical inflation that is more than a hundred percent higher than our full-year headline inflation last year. Since late 2018 up to April this year, price pressures on basic goods and services have eased, yet the cost of medicines, diagnostics and procedures continue to spike,” he added.
The party-list lawmaker said he will call for a congressional probe on the cost structure and the variables that influence the pricing of medicines, as well as diagnostics and other medical procedures—including doctors’ consultation fees.
There must also be a cap on the profit margin that drug stores, pharmacies, distributors and retailers are allowed to pass on to consumers, he said.
The Mercer Marsh Benefits 2019 Medical Trends Around the World report showed the country’s medical inflation is expected to increase to 13.7 percent this year from 13 percent last year. This makes the Philippines the second most expensive country in Southeast Asia in terms of medical cost, next only to Vietnam’s 14.2 percent.
In the 17th Congress, lawmakers sought to pass a priority legislation of the Palace that aims to give more teeth to the Cheaper Medicines Law by establishing a Drug Price Regulatory Board.
A proponent of the measure, then Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron, disclosed that big drug store chains rake in 30 percent of what Filipinos pay for their medicines.
According to the World Health Organization, greater transparency and fair pricing for medicine are “global human rights issues” yet the price of out-of-pocket medicine each year has pushed 100 million people into poverty.
Defensor said this makes the need to lower the cost of maintenance medicines and make diagnostic tests free for all Filipinos even more pressing, as pushed by Anakalusugan party-list.
“The first hurdle to knowing your health status is undergoing a diagnostic exam or basic blood tests, but the cost of undergoing the tests is already prohibitive. We will make sure that this discriminatory situation is changed,” he said.
He said the Value Added Tax on vitamins and maintenance medicines must be removed to address both the preventive and curative aspects of health care.
Defensor explained that at present, even under the Universal Health Care Law, only the VAT slapped on maintenance medicines for diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension have been lifted.
“This must be expanded and made more inclusive,” he added.