By Jose Cielito Reganit
MANILA — Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor on Tuesday said he will call for a probe on the pricing of medicines in the Philippines, following reports 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 Mercer Marsh Benefits 2019 Medical Trends Around the World report showed that 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.
“We call for greater transparency in the pricing of medicines in the Philippines. It is unacceptable that the country’s expected medical inflation this year is more than double the full-year average inflation in 2018,” Defensor said.
The party-list lawmaker also noted that the medical inflation forecast is 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.
He said the congressional probe would focus 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.
“We want to know why we have 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 said.
“There must also be a cap on the profit margin that drug stores, pharmacies, distributors and retailers are allowed to pass on to consumers,” Defensor added.
He noted that in the 17th Congress, lawmakers sought to pass the 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, said big drug store chains rake in 30 percent of what Filipinos pay for their medicines.
“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,” Defensor said.
“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 (VAT) on vitamins and maintenance medicines must be removed to address both the preventive and curative aspects of health care.
At present, even under the Universal Health Care Law, he noted that only the VAT slapped on maintenance medicines for diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension have been lifted.
“This must be expanded and made more inclusive,” Defensor said. (PNA)