Bollywood star Aamir Khan had two simple prescriptions for a Parliamentary committee to reduce high health costs for citizens. First, make doctors prescribe generic medicines rather than brands. Second, set up a regulator to ensure big pharmaceutical don’t take over smaller ones and monopolise the medicine market.
Khan and his team were invited on Thursday by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce headed by BJP MP Shanta Kumar, which is considering the issue of Foreign Direct Investment in India, to make a presentation after his weekly show Satyamev Jayate.
For Khan, who has struck an emotional cord with his first television show, the issue of high prices of medicines was a reason for high indebtness in rural India. He reportedly referred to government studies such as that of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) that over 65 % of rural Indians the cause of indebtnes was high costs of health.
Despite Indian Medical Association criticizing Khan for his views on the show, the actor pointed out at several improper practices being promoted by pharmaceutical companies to increase sale of their products leading to unethical medical practices.
A possible way-out suggested was making doctors prescribe generic medicines and let the consumers decide which brand they want to buy, said a member of the standing committee.
A recent Planning Commission study has pointed out that Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation had bought medicines at up to 1/20th of the retail price through bulk buying and made it available to people at an affordable price.
The market price of a strip of 10 tablets of Albendazole for worm infection was Rs 250 whereas the corporation procured it’s generic version for Rs 4.62. Arteether, an injection for malaria, cost the government one-tenth of its market price.
According to corporation, around 100 companies supply over 450 different medicines and surgical equipment for distribution free of cost through public health facilities (PHFs), the only state to have such scheme. “At a budget of Rs 29 per capita the Tamil Nadu is able to provide medicines to all indoor and outdoor patients in all public health facilities,” said the panel’s committee on providing cheaper drugs to citizens.
“The government can chip-in by selling generic medicines as done in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan,” Khan later told reporters. The panel had estimated that the cost of providing generic medicines free of cost to all would be just Rs 28,000 crore in the 12th five year plan (2012-17).
Impressed by presentation made by Khan’s team, another committee member said, they highlighted how a few pharmaceutical companies were taking over smaller companies and monopolizing the market.
“Khan suggested a regulator for Foreign Direct Investment in pharma sector to check monopoly,” a committee member said, adding that data on number of smaller Indian companies been acquired my multi-nationals in the last few years was also presented.