ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Balancing Affordability with Access

Without supply management strategies, pricing of essential drugs will fail to ensure access.

The healthcare system in India is characterised by a rapaciously expanding private sector and prohibitive out-of-pocket (OOP) health expenditures that hinder access to healthcare, particularly for the poor and the vulnerable. Either they are simply unable to afford such high costs or are further impoverished by the burden of healthcare expenditures. More disconcerting in this scenario is the spiralling cost of therapeutics, which has emerged as a key driver of the increasing share of healthcare in household consumption expenditures over time. Almost two-fifths of the overall healthcare costs and more than half of the total private OOP healthcare costs in India are for therapeutics. In this context, recent initiatives of the central government for (essential) drug price control, such as the new Drug (Price Control) Order (DPCO) of 2013 or the proposed expansion of the generic drugs scheme by increasing the number of Jan Aushadhi Kendras, are welcome moves, indeed, but to what extent efficacious, is debatable.

Pricing of medicines (essentials) has been an issue of concern even with the central governments that preceded the current one. But, other than repeated promises that were made from time to time by various central governments, nothing much has been done at the statutory level to ensure free medicines for the poor. What has been achieved till date are some state-specific initiatives, and some incentive offers made by the central government to the states through the National Health Mission for launching free drugs and diagnostic services. The policy overtone in this aspect is historically preponderated by “price control,” which, as of now, could encompass even less than a quarter of the domestic pharmaceuticals market. Besides, experiences of drug price control have not been promising. In November 2017, when the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority issued a ceiling price of Re 0.29 per unit for Furosemide (brand name Lasix), a diuretic for babies, the prices were slashed down from ₹100–₹110 to ₹10 per pack, and the industry retaliated by cutting down supply of the drug.

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Updated On : 26th Jun, 2020
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