Govt moving to cap stent prices provides relief to patients, but could come at a significant cost
With the retail prices of coronary stent prices often being as high as 300-1,200% of their landed price, as per an analysis by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), the government has done well to notify metal, drug eluting, bio-resorbable and bio-degradable stents as Schedule 1 drugs, thus bringing them under price control as per the Drugs (Prices Control) Order. The NPPA is expected to specify the cap on stent prices soon. This gives relief to lakhs of cardiac patients and their families—over 4.2 lakh angioplasties were conducted last year where drug-eluting stents were planted, with patients together spending R3,000 crore on such stents. Even though there are cheap stents available—some of domestic make are priced as low as R25,000, compared with the R2 lakh some imported ones are sold for—patients families nearly always have next to no time to compare stents and purchase a cheap but effective one. With high-priced ones pushed on them in the name of quality, there is no option but to incur the heavy costs. Thus, a price-cap will help remedy this.
While price discovery is best left to the market competition, in a sector, like healthcare, the consumer seldom has enough information and adequate time to make the best decision—and therefore must rely on expert advice—thus necessitating government intervention to bring balance. But that is going to impose its own costs. Price-caps are likely to drive away state-of-the-art technology—developed with considerable R&D spending—from the Indian market. This will mean that patients are denied the most advanced stents even when they could have been able to afford them.