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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

ONE of the main authors of Republic Act No. 9502 or the Cheaper Medicines Law (CML) in the House of Representatives will file amendments to strengthen the law.

Rep. Ferjenel Biron (4th district, Iloilo) said he will push for amendments to the law which aims to drive down prices of essential medicines, before the 14th Congress ends next year.

Biron said the amendments include the restoration of the automatic price reduction mechanism and the drug price regulatory board.

These two provisions were included in the House version of the CML but it was deleted during the bicameral conference due to the opposition of Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas II.

Roxas also crafted his own version of the law which only pushed for amendments to Republic Act 8263 (Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines) which will allow parallel importation of patented medicines.

The Roxas version does not contain provisions on the automatic price reduction of medicines and the drug price regulatory board. Instead, he gave the power to regulate the prices of essential drugs to the President upon the recommendation of the Department of Health (DoH) secretary.

Biron said the CML is weak because of the deletion of the provision on the mandatory drug price regulation which the House advocated.

“Senator Roxas’ opposition to the House version and the consequent deletion of these provisions basically emasculated and weakened the law,” he added.

Under Biron’s proposal, the law itself will set the minimum retail price of medicines which will be listed by the drug price regulatory board.

The medicines that will be subject to automatic price regulation will be based on the essential drugs list of the DoH.

Roxas has blamed the President and the DoH for dilly-dallying on the implementation of the “weakened” CML which he himself pushed for in Congress. 

During her State of the Nation Address, President Gloria Arroyo said she supported the House’s “tougher” version of the CML over the “meek version” of her critics.

Apparently, President Arroyo took a swipe at Roxas who once badmouthed her in a protest rally.

“To those who want to be president, this advice: If you really want something done, just do it, do it hard, do it well, don’t pussy-foot, don’t say bad words in public,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President also thanked Biron and other congressmen who pushed for the approval of the law.

Biron said he agrees with President Arroyo’s tirades against Roxas saying the senator only used the CML to advance his political ambitions next year.

Biron said President Arroyo’s statement recognizes that the CML is indeed impotent and needs more teeth.

Biron said he hopes the President will certify his amendatory bill as urgent to fast track its approval in Congress.  

The Ilonggo congressman has urged Roxas to stop the blame game and join the effort to amend the CML and make it more potent.

President snipes at Sen. Mar Roxas

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

PRESIDENT Gloria Arroyo said she supported the House of Representative’s tougher version of the Cheaper Medicines Law.

Arroyo issued the statement in her 9th State of the Nation Address (SONA) taking a swipe at her critics who pushed for a “weaker version” of the law.

“I supported the tough version of the House of the Cheaper Medicine Law. I supported it over the weak version of my critics. The result: the drug companies volunteered to bring down drug prices, slashing by half the prices of 16 drugs,” President Arroyo said.

The President thanked congressmen who pushed for a tougher Cheaper Medicines Act.

Thank you, Congressman (Junie) Cua, Antonio Alvarez, (Ferjenel) Biron and (Teodoro “Teddy Boy”) Locsin (Jr.)…”

Rep. Biron (4th district, Iloilo) is one of the principal authors of the law in the House of Representatives. His version pushed for the automatic drug price reduction through the Maximum Retail Price (MRP), a formula that will reduce retail prices of essential medicines.

Biron’s version also pushed for the establishment of a drug price regulatory board that will implement the formula and MRP on medicines included in the essential drugs list of the Department of Health (DoH).

But the version of Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, a staunch critic of the Arroyo administration, which advocated for parallel importation of patented medicines, won over the House version.

Roxas’ version also gave the power to set the MRP of medicines to the President through the recommendations of the DoH secretary.

Biron said Roxas’ version weakened and delayed the implementation of the CML.

President Arroyo also taunted Roxas for badmouthing her in a protest rally.

“To those who want to be president, this advice: If you really want something done, just do it, do it hard, do it well, don’t pussy-foot, don’t say bad words in public,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she has been supportive of efforts to lower prices of essential medicines since 2001.

“Mula noong 2001, nanawagan tayo ng mas murang gamot. Nagbebenta na tayo ng mga gamot na kalahating presyo sa libu-libong Botika ng Bayan at Botika ng Barangay sa maraming dako ng bansa,” she said.

She added that she prompted manufacturers to sell low-cost generics and brands like RiteMed.

Panay rehab, flood control

The President also highlighted in her SONA the ongoing flood control project in Iloilo as part of her administration’s response to natural calamities and disasters.

Mrs. Arroyo also urged Congress to pass the Simplified Net Income Taxation Scheme (SNITS) Law which will become the source of the P8-billion Paglaum Fund.

“The victims of typhoon Frank in Panay should receive their long-overdue assistance package. I ask Congress to pass the SNITS Law,” she said.

Feisty talk

President Arroyo also tried to quell down talks that she will stay in power beyond 2010.

“At the end of this speech I shall step down from this stage, but not from the Presidency. My term does not end until next year. Until then, I will fight for the ordinary Filipino. The nation comes first. There is much to do as head of state—to the very last day,” she said.

President Arroyo added: “I never expressed the desire to extend myself beyond my term. Many of those who accuse me of it tried to cling like nails to their posts.”

The President said she is not after popularity but performance and achievements.

“I did not become President to be popular. To work, to lead, to protect and preserve our country, our people, that is why I became President. When my father left the Presidency, we were second to Japan. I want our Republic to be ready for the first world in 20 years.”

President Arroyo also urged purported candidates in the 2010 polls to present their platforms to the people.

“As the campaign unfolds and the candidates take to the airwaves, I ask them to talk more about how they will build up the nation rather than tear down their opponents. Our candidates must understand the complexities of our government and what it takes to move the country forward. Give the electorate real choices and not just sweet talk,” she said.

She again took a swipe at her critics who “are frightened by their own shadows.”

“In the face of attempted coups, I issued emergency proclamations just in case. But I was able to resolve these military crises with the ordinary powers of my office. My critics call it dictatorship. I call it determination. We know it as strong government. But I never declared martial law, though they are running scared as if I did. In truth, what they are really afraid of is their weakness in the face of this self-imagined threat. I say to them: do not tell us what we all know, that democracy can be threatened. Tell us what you will do when it is attacked.”

The President’s SONA was applauded 124 times and lasted 58 minutes.

Rep. Biron hits senator for Cheaper Meds Law scandal

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE main proponent of the Cheaper Medicines Law (CML) faulted a senator for the alleged bribery attempt by a multinational pharmaceutical company to hinder the implementation of the law.

Rep. Ferjenel G. Biron, (4th district, Iloilo) said the alleged bribery could have been avoided if Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas followed the congressman’s version of a drug price mechanism in the CML.

Biron said he had warned that vesting the power to regulate drug prices in one entity is prone to pressures by multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Biron said his hunch was proven after the Senate claimed that a drug company offered to provide 5 million discount cards to the government to impede the enforcement of the law.

Drug manufacturer Pfizer Philippines allegedly offered 5 million “sulit cards” to the Department of Health (DoH) to “provide cheaper medicines to the public.”

The discount cards are valued at P100 million or more, depending on the usage done by its recipients, according to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

The offer, which was allegedly rejected by the government, was made as President Gloria Arroyo was poised to set the maximum retail prices (MRP) for 22 most prescribed drugs in the country. The MRP is a provision of the CML (Republic Act 9502), which was passed last year.

Biron had proposed in his version of the CML an automatic mechanism or template that will set the MRP for medicines. 

He also proposed a drug price regulatory body that will either de-list or enlist essential drugs in the MRP list and follow the formula set by law.

“The automatic mechanism, which is actually a price formula, will ensure that the prices of essential medicines will go down, just like in India. If the mechanism is there, you don’t have to involve the DoH Secretary or the President in lowering the prices of medicines. You will just have to follow what’s written in the law,” Biron said.    

Biron also said the regulatory agency will be harder to bribe or pressure compared to a single agency (such as the DoH) or person (the health secretary or President).

“A collegial body would be difficult to hardball or grease compared to a single entity. All eyes will be on the board. I already warned about this when Roxas proposed that the DoH will recommend the MRP list to the President for approval,” he added. 

But Roxas, Senate committee on trade and industry, struck down Biron’s proposal.

Instead, Roxas proposed that the President, through the DoH, set the MRP of the most prescribed drugs in the country. The senator also pushed for parallel importation in a bid to lower drug prices.

Now, Roxas is blaming the DoH and President Arroyo for the alleged bribery and failure to implement the law.

But Biron said Roxas should blame himself, no one else.

“Why is Mar complaining now when he is the one who gave the power to set the prices of medicines to the President? He should be blaming himself because that’s his proposal. It is in the President already because he gave that power,” Biron said.

Biron also slammed Roxas for claiming the MRP as his brainchild.

“What MRP is he talking about? Mar Roxas for President? He knows nothing about the MRP because that is my idea. His only idea was parallel importation,” he added.

The US State Department earlier raised concerns on the parallel importation proviso of the law as it threatens to violate agreements on intellectual property rights which the Philippine government signed.

Biron said parallel importation of patented medicines will not lower drug prices because less than 2% of drug formulations are patented.

“The rest of the medicines can only be regulated through drug price control,” he said.

PFIZER DENIAL

In a statement, Pfizer said the allegations about the bribe try are both “unfounded and unhelpful.”

“Pfizer is committed to improving the health and well-being of Filipinos and believes that active and open dialogue with all key stakeholders on healthcare delivery is a crucial element. Last week’s meeting was undertaken in this spirit, and allegations to the contrary are both unfounded and unhelpful,” the statement from Pfizer read.

“Even prior to the passage of the Cheaper Medicines Act (R.A. 9502), our Sulit Patient Care Program over the past five years has helped 1.8 million Filipino patients live longer, healthier lives in partnership with the medical community,” Pfizer said.

“Pfizer fully supports the Government’s efforts to further improve healthcare delivery for the nation and seeks to achieve this via constructive dialogue,” the multinational pharmaceutical firm said.

Reiner Gloor, Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) executive director said the offer was made to the DoH, not to President Arroyo.

Minimum Retail Price of medicines a ‘consuelo de bobo’

 

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

THE minimum retail price (MRP) list of medicines released by the Department of Health (DoH) relative to the implementation of Republic Act 9502 or the Cheaper Medicines Law (CML) is inutile.

Rep. Ferjenel Biron (4th district, Iloilo), the main proponent of CML in the House of Representatives, said the MRP list does not conform to the intent of the law.

Biron said the law described medicines under different therapeutic classes that were supposed to be regulated.

Most of the medicines recommended for MRP include those against hypertension, blood clotting, infection and cancer.

“What happened in the MRP list is that not all medicines specified in the law was included in the list. Of the 22 medicines in the list, 10 are for cancer. There are many people who buy daily maintenance for hypertension and diabetes compared to those dying of cancer. They should have included medicines for asthma, cardiac arrest and diabetes,” Biron said in a phone interview.

Biron also questioned the DoH for the basis of the MRP list and pricing mechanism used by the department.

In the MRP list, anti-hypertensive drug Norvasc was slashed to P22.50 per tablet from P44.50 while anti-diabetic Diamicron was slashed from P14.75 per tablet to P7.35.

“The price reduction is not substantial. Consuelo de bobo lang ini (It’s just a consolation). The pharmaceutical companies only gave us 50% discount. The common Filipino will not feel the effects of the law if this is how DoH is doing its job,” Biron said.

Biron said he will push for the amendment of CML under a new administration after the May 2010 elections.

Biron has been pushing for the creation of the drug price regulatory board that will set the MRP for essential medicines. But the provision was deleted during the bicameral conference of the House and Senate and instead gave the regulatory function to the DoH.

The revised version of the CML also adopted parallel importation which is frowned upon by the US State Department as it will tolerate patent infringement.

In a statement, Duque said they choose the medicines based on the needs of the public.

The MRP were based on their price in the country compared to their costs in other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), their generic counterparts, and on market studies.

“However, in instances where the lack of competition has effected prices of medicines to be inordinately high that it limits access, especially for the poor, then it shall under Republic Act 9502 exert its power to regulate prices for drugs need to address common health concerns,” Duque said.

Duque said the MRP was usually 50 percent off the leading brand price.

Examples are the anti-hypertensive Norvasc slashed from P44.50 to P22.50; the antithrombotic drugs Plavix, Lipitor and Diamicron presently sold at P119.90, P62.50 and P14.57, respectively, were slashed to P59.95, P31.25 and P7.35.

The health secretary said the implementation of MRP was delayed because they needed to consult with the different stakeholders before they were able to come up with the list of medicines.

The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the law says tjat the MRP of selected drugs will be imposed at all levels of supply chains including “but not limited to manufacturer’s price, trader’s price, distributor’s price and wholesaler’s price, and retailer’s price.”

The IRR also provides that senior citizen’s discounts and discounts for people with disabilities will still be honored for drugs and medicines with MRPs.

He added the list will grow longer in the future. The MRP would be subject to a review after three months of its implementation.

The MRP will be submitted to President Gloria Arroyo for approval.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

REPRESENTATIVE Ferj Biron (4th district, Iloilo) urged the Land Transportation Office (LTO) to impose stricter procedures in issuing licenses to drivers.

 

Biron made the call after a police officer assigned at 609th Iloilo Provincial Mobile Group (IPMG) died in mishap at Brgy. Punong Grande, Dueñas, Iloilo Sunday afternoon.

 

SPO1 Jose Roger Suarez succumbed to massive chest injuries at the Iloilo Provincial Hospital in Pototan, Iloilo.

 

Suarez was driving the Toyota Hilux mobile patrol that escorted Biron’s convoy when a Passi City-bound Jai Alai Bus driven by Argie Grande rammed into the patrol car.

 

Biron’s group was on their way to Iloilo City to meet Senator Manuel Villar when the accident happened.

 

Suarez’s fellow officers, PO2 Arnulfo Amos and PO1 Joemarie Balisang and 20 bus passengers were slightly injured in the accident.

 

Biron said he saw Jai Alai bus rushed towards them reason prompting his convoy to slow down.

 

The IPMG patrol, which was tailing the convoy, tried to move ahead of the line but the rushing bus rammed into the police car.

 

Biron said he saw Grande, a native of Brgy. Naslo, Passi City, grin while driving at top speed on the highway.

 

The congressman said the LTO should strictly screen persons who want to secure driving license for public safety’s sake.

 

Biron said some drivers don’t even know how to read or write but still get driving licenses from the LTO.

 

He also urged investigators to test Grande for illegal drugs.

 

Biron said he will provide scholarship and livelihood assistance to the family of SPO1 Juarez.

 

“We will make sure that his family will have decent and sustainable source of income. I will also provide scholarships to their children so they can finish college,” the congressman said.  

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) needs additional personnel and testing centers in the country to monitor and examine food items imported in the country, an Ilonggo congressman said.

Rep. Ferjenel Biron (4th district, Iloilo) said BFAD must beef up its workforce to thoroughly monitor the market for banned items, particularly milk from China believed to be contaminated with melamine which causes kidney stones.

Biron said there are only 370 food and drug regulation officers (FDROs) assigned all over the country which makes it difficult for the agency to monitor food, drugs and cosmetic items in the Philippines.

BFAD only has one testing center based in Alabang, Makati City which means all tests must be done in Metro Manila.

“BFAD does not have enough personnel to monitor the compliance of food items, medicines among others to standards set by the World Health Organization,” the congressman added.

Biron, who is a doctor by profession, said he co-sponsored the BFAD Strengthening Bill in the House of Representatives which aims to triple the number of FDROs in the country.

The bill also seeks to allocate P1 billion for the construction testing centers in key cities of the country to hasten the examination of suspected contaminated and or substandard items.

Despite the lack in manpower and logistics, Biron lauded the BFAD for working overtime to monitor and ban milk products suspected to be laced with melamine.

“While they lack people, BFAD is capable to test products. The agency has been doing this job well so far. It is not customary for the BFAD to check all products imported in the country. What they conduct are random tests only. The agency relies on reports from countries where these products originated,” Biron added.

With the China milk scare gripping the Philippines and other parts of the world, Biron advised the BFAD to issue specific guidelines on what milk products must be banned after comprehensive tests.

“The BFAD must also act with prudence to protect businesses as not all milk brands are contaminated,” he added.

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