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Capital talk: Rs 14 a tablet, why?

punjab Updated: Jan 10, 2016 10:20 IST
Madhusheel Arora
Madhusheel Arora

Generics are cheaper as the companies making these tweak with the process to arrive at the same medicine (product) as the branded drug maker. (HT Photo )

Most of us who have had the misfortune of falling ill or are battling a chronic medical condition know that the healthcare cost in our country remains terribly-terribly high, mostly due to inflated cost of medicines. Till now, it has been a valid presumption that if your doctor was kind enough to prescribe the salt that you needed to take then the generic (locally-made) version could be bought and all would be fine, as generic drugs are priced much lower — usually 1/10 of the MRP printed on ‘branded’ drugs.

Why are Generics cheaper ?

Generics are cheaper as the companies making these tweak with the process to arrive at the same medicine (product) as the branded drug maker. Generic drug makers, though, have the huge benefit of having a finished product in front of them and, thus, can work backwards to create their ‘version of the product’ with the same characteristics.

It’s like somebody first discovered that 2+2 gives us — the PRODUCT — 4. Generic drug makers are like people who after seeing the PRODUCT 4 realise that well — 1+3 is also 4; 5-1 is also 4; 0+4 is also 4 and, so on and so forth.

Beware of MRP

With this background, one would expect that a patient taking generics would have a much lower budget for medicines. However, even this comfort is fast evaporating as some pharmaceutical companies have deliberately gone on to destroy the difference between a generic product and the ‘so-called original’ formulation’.

The cur ious case of Atorvastanin

Take for instance, a salt called Atorvastanin prescribed to lower bad cholesterol. The first challenge patients and even doctors face is that there are more than 400 companies making the salt and selling it under various ‘brand’ names. Critically for a patient, all are tagged with different MRPs. However, what is inexcusable on the part of most companies is that the MRP is usually more than five times the cost they incur and then there is the whole ‘façade enacted of offering discounts’.

For Atorvastanin, we have a strip of fancily-named 10-tablet strip (20mg) from a leading company carrying Rs 139.5 as MRP. This works out to Rs 14 per tablet. If you ask the chemist for the generic version of the salt, he would say he does not stock generics. However, approach another chemist with whom you are friendlier with the same request and you would get a shock. Atorvastanin is available in the same packing with the same batch number, expiry and manufacturing date etc made by the same company at Rs 30. Now, it is Rs 3 per tablet. The MRP on the Rs 30 pack that you would, now presumably buy, remains the same at Rs 139.5.