The long wait for cheaper medicines

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — OPS Photo 

It’s about time that Malacañang finally gave up on pushing for the generics-only provision in the Cheaper Medicines Bill that has languished in the 13th and 14th Congress.  The general public wants the law passed, and as soon as possible.  However, I do not think many will agree with the President’s preference of passing an “imperfect” law, rather than a perfect bill that will never see the light of day.

 After all, passing an imperfect law would mean the need to fix it later on.  This of course, would again take up much of taxpayers’ time and money.  Still, the need for cheaper medicines is urgent, considering the escalating prices of everything else.

Either way, removing the generics-only provision of the bill isn’t going for a compromise.  It is removing one wrong provision of a vital bill.

To have the generics-only provision is a noble idea, for it gives Filipinos the real chance to avail medicines at cheaper prices compared to those produced by big, multinational pharmaceutical agencies.  But this would only work if all generic medicines actually cured sicknesses.  The truth of the matter is, not all of the generics are effective.  Many doctors know this, and that is largely why they are against the provision.   So why penalize doctors for prescribing the right medicine?

My mother is a physician, and there are quite a number of instances in the past when she would prescribe generic medicines to me and other relatives.  But there are times when we would go for the more expensive brands because the generics don’t work.  Yes, the exchange of favors among a number of doctors and pharmaceutical companies are a reality that needs to be looked into separately.  But at the end of the day, the lives of patients are in doctors’ hands, and they would consider lives more rather than their relationships with some of these pharmaceutical companies.  Patronage in the medical profession after all, may not be (as) dirty, compared to patronage in politics!

Should the bill be finally passed, it is the duty of government to more aggressively campaign for the prescription and use of generic medicines.  It is proper for the administration to inform the general public about alternatives to branded medicines.  Patients should be taught to ask doctors about generic medicines, and to ask if they take these instead of branded ones.  A major part of the problem after all is that many Pinoys are not aware of the existence of generic medicines.  So can we hear the return of mascot Eric Generic again?

Still, I would be very wary and skeptical about the passage of such a bill.  After all, an incumbent politician aggressively supporting the bill owns a pharmaceutical company and remains very active in its operations.  And from the looks of it, this company will be engaged in the parallel importation of medicines and production of generic medicines. 

With Malacañang finally giving up, maybe we can now expect the immediate passage of the bill when Congress resumes session next week.  And let’s hope lawmakers do this with the same or more vigor as the legislative probes on the scandals of this administration.

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