The finance ministry's objections to the proposed market-based drug pricing policy, which forced the Cabinet to defer a decision on Thursday, may also delay a final decision on the issue. The policy was outlined by a group of ministers in September. The finance ministry, which was not part of the GoM, raised objections when the Cabinet note outlining the proposal was circulated. The ministry also sent its objections to the PMO and the cabinet secretariat.
North Block wants all combination drugs using one or more ingredients and all strengths of essential medicines and bulk drugs included in the price net. It also favours continuing the cost-based formula to fix essential drug prices. Since health is a state subject, the ministry also wants discussions with state governments before any final decision.
The finance ministry's citing of health as a state subject has surprised supporters of market-based pricing, who say the present Drug Pricing Control Order derives its power from the Essential Commodities Act, which is a central legislation.
After numerous differences, the GoM headed by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had agreed to fix prices of essential drugs based on the weighted average price of all brands with over 1% market share in any therapeutic category. It had also decided to limit coverage of drugs to the 348 items in the NLEM, sparing the combinations and strengths not mentioned in the list.
Excluding active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) from price control could lead to cartelisation and raise bulk drug prices, argues a finance ministry note to department of pharmaceuticals. It says almost all of the 25 bestselling drugs are 'irrational combinations' and that it may not be a prudent idea to leave out combination drugs out of price control.
Implementing the new policy could prompt more firms to market combination drugs, many of which could be irrational, say opponents of market-based pricing.
The finance ministry has faulted market-based pricing, saying it factors in the value of the 'brand' as a component in fixing prices, which amounts to considering more than the actual costs of inputs of drugs.
Implementing such a formula may 'distort prices (of essential drugs) upwards',