Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas commended the EO that set maximum drug retail prices on basic medicine and selected anti-cancer drugs since the lower cost will have a profound effect on cancer patients and their families.
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‘Medicine price cap benefits cancer patients the most’
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The executive order (EO) President Duterte signed imposing a price ceiling for key medicines would have a bigger impact on cancer patients who could only be treated with very expensive drugs, a senior lawmaker said yesterday. 

Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas commended the EO that set maximum drug retail prices on basic medicine and selected anti-cancer drugs since the lower cost will have a profound effect on cancer patients and their families.

“Not everyone has the means to pay for treatment and, sadly, this is the case for majority of Filipinos. The truth of the matter is, these patients don’t even have the money to pay for their transportation in going to the hospitals,” he said. 

“The cost of having cancer, aside from its psychological effects, is enormous. We have always heard stories about how they have been saddled with debt. And that is why we are very thankful to the President for issuing the EO,” Vargas said. 

The new measure is expected to reduce by 56 percent the prices of some 120 drugs, including medicines for hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung diseases, neonatal diseases and major cancers.  

The Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations (PAPO) yesterday opposed the proposal to create a Drug Price Regulatory Board (DPRB), saying the this is not the answer to the high cost of medicines.

In a position paper, PAPO welcomed the government’s efforts to reduce the cost of medicines that account for 85 percent of the expenses of Filipino patients.

However, the group is against House Bill 3252, which seeks to establish the DPRB that will regulate medicines in the Philippines. The proposed measure seeks to amend Republic Act 9702 or the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008.

PAPO added there are many factors that contribute to why the prices of medicine in the country are high.

The group expressed concern that based on past experience, creating a DPRB creates an additional layer of bureaucracy that will consume precious government resources and provide an opportunity for corruption.

In an earlier interview, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III revealed that the medicine prices in the country are high primarily due to limited competition, high disease burden that requires huge demand for medicines and price mark up in various stages of the supply chain, from manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, among others. 

PAPO has reiterated that there is “a need to increase the support value of government and social health insurance through the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) for our healthcare spending.” 

The group has asked Duque to impose a maximum fixed co-payment for all case rates in hospitals and strictly enforce the no-balance billing in government hospitals. 

It also sought the strengthening of out-patient health services by encouraging disease prevention and “health-seeking behavior” among Filipinos. 

PAPO added the government should increase the budget for the implementation of universal health coverage to make sure that its purposes are achieved.

Under the new EO, the list of medicines for price regulation was recommended by the Drug Price Advisory Council and chosen based on the burden of the disease in terms of magnitude and severity of the condition.

Vargas also called for the full implementation of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (Republic Act 11215) that aims to provide affordable and accessible treatment, especially for lower-income cancer patients, to prevent cancer-related deaths.

“The National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) and its Implementing Rules and Regulations are already in place but the law has yet to receive funding. There needs to be an initial funding from the government to jumpstart the implementation of the law,” he stressed.

Data from the Philippine Cancer Facts and Estimates of the Department of Health show that there are 11 new cases and nine deaths every hour for adult cancer patients and eight deaths per day for children with cancer in the Philippines. 

Health officials said that there are 110,000 new cancer cases and over 66,000 cancer deaths per year.

“These alarming statistics underscore the urgency of implementing the NICCA. We should not deny the fact that cancer may touch our lives one of these days – one of our friends, co-workers and – hopefully not – in our family. If that happens, there should be enough support for affected families to persevere,” he said. – With Sheila Crisostomo

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