Having put a cap on the prices of coronary stents, the government is now moving to expand the ambit of price control to other medical devices as well. The Health ministry has said that it is has started deliberations and analyzing data to bring more critical medical devices under the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM). All devices under the NLEM automatically fall under the purview of price control.
"We are looking into it. A committee has already been formed which is evaluating price data," Union Health minister J P Nadda said on Werdnesday.
“Stents have been added to the National List of Essential Medicines and we are trying to put more medical devices in this list to ensure medicines and medical devices remain affordable,” said Nadda speaking to the press at Indian Women’s Press Corps.
This was the minister’s first press conference since the Health ministry unveiled India’s new National Health Policy in March this year.
In February, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) had capped the price of bare-metal stents at Rs 7,260 and drug-eluting stents at Rs 29,600, after declaring coronary stents as “essential medicines.”
The minister also said that the government could bring changes to the Indian Medical Association Act in order to make it mandatory for doctors to prescribe generic medicines. The Medical Council of India (MCI) is doing the needful and if required, changes may be made to the Indian Medical Council Act, the minister said.
The need for changes into the Act is aimed at providing more legal teeth to the Council to act against errant doctors. While the council directives to doctors are to prescribe generic drugs, they are rarely followed.
The need for the government to bring more critical medical devices under the ambit of price control appears more justified. While the government has done its bit to stop hospitals and medical device manufacturers from fleecing patients by selling coronary stents at highly inflated prices, the nexus between the two continues. As part of a clever plan, they manufacturers and hospitals have been allegedly found pushing non-coronary stents and other high-end life-saving products with huge margins.
According to the TOI, documents with quotations from suppliers to hospitals show that medical devices and different kinds of stents — other than coronary, which have been brought under control — are offered to hospitals at prices far lower than that charged from the consumer.
Though the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has also asked for pricing data from all medical device manufacturers for all their products, many of them fall outside the purview of price control since they do not fall under the NLEM.
Drug price control has been at the forefront of the Narendra Modi government’s electoral promises, with the Prime Minister telling voters in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the Assembly polls about capping of coronary stent prices earlier this year.
However, NITI Aayog, in October 2016, decided to delink the DPCO from the NLEM, and wrest the price control function from the NPPA and vest it with the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP). When asked about the decision to delink NPPA, the Minister said price control would remain with the authority.