House to defer approval of Cheap Medicine Bill
By Jess Diaz
Monday, April 28, 2008
Speaker Prospero Nograles said yesterday he would defer House approval of the final version of the proposed Cheaper Medicines Bill until he is satisfied that it could reduce drug prices.
In a statement, he said he would “accept a delayed law rather than a patently flawed law.”
He made the statement in the wake of warnings from two of his colleagues who are authors of the Cheaper Medicines Bill that senators weakened the measure to a point that it would not bring down the cost of medicines. Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron, a doctor, said the Senate removed the “generics-only” provision and the proposed drug price regulation board, two important mechanisms that would make medicines within reach of the poor.
Nograles said he intends to meet with Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez, trade and commerce committee chairman and principal sponsor of the bill, Biron and other key authors and sponsors tomorrow or on Wednesday.
This means that the House may not be able to approve the final copy of the measure before Labor Day as agreed upon in last week’s meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, he said.
However, he said he would meet with President Arroyo and Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. in Cebu today to get their sense on the bill as crafted by a bicameral conference committee.
The President, Villar and Nograles will be in Cebu for the signing of the new charter of the University of the Philippines.
Nograles said the public should be assured that the enactment of the Cheaper Medicines Bill would “really bring down the cost of medicines.”
Without such assurance, “I think that it will be best to deter its ratification because I don’t see the point of passing a law that will not serve its purpose.
We don’t want to give false hopes to our people,” he said. He added that if approval of the final version is deferred, the measure will be returned to the conference committee jointly chaired by Alvarez and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Mar Roxas.
Last Thursday, Biron and Rep. Jeanette Garin, also of Iloilo and also a doctor like Biron, blamed Roxas and other Senate conferees for a “significantly and drastically weakened” Cheaper Medicines Bill.
They said the Senate panel inexplicably made an inflexible stand for deleting the “generics-only” provision and the proposed independent price board that would regulate prices of at least 20 “commonly used” drugs, whose prices here are five to 10 times more than these products cost in countries that produce and export them.
“The promised cheaper medicines will not be cheaper,” Biron said.
Under the generics only proviso, doctors would be banned from prescribing branded medicines whose prices are high because they are patented and the cost involved in advertising and promoting them is huge.
Biron said without the proviso and the proposed price board, Malacañang and Congress would just be raising false hopes about the prospect of the bill’s enactment resulting in lower drug prices.
Militant lawmakers claimed that the dilution of the bill was the result of a “well-funded lobby” by the multi-billion-peso pharmaceutical industry.
On the other hand, Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., one of the bill’s authors, blamed “corrupt senators in the pockets of drug companies” for the watered-down final version of the measure.
Congressmen, however, stopped short of tossing part of the blame on President Arroyo, whose appeal for the deletion of the generics-only provision led to the decision of the House not to insist on it and for senators to go for killing it.