Controlling stent prices may show benefits in short-run, but does long-term damage

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New Delhi | Published: April 22, 2019 4:40:13 AM

The capping slashed the price of drug-eluting stents by as much as 70%.

health, health sector, health industryTop-rung MNCs pulling their products out of the Indian market also has serious implications for patients in the country.

A new study by doctors and policymakers at public hospitals posits that the price cap on coronary stents may have helped a larger number of patients from lower-income groups undergo life-saving angioplasty since their number went up sharply after the price-regulation move. The study, led by Dr Bhanu Duggal, the head of cardiology at AIIMS, Rishikesh, found that the number of patients who underwent procedures involving stents in Maharashtra rose by 43% after the state reduced prices of drug-eluting stents in 2014—while only 40.7% of the patients could afford the high-end stents in 2013, the number jumped to 71.3% in 2015.

All that said, the price-control regime was a bad idea then and is a bad idea now. The effect that the study describes could most likely be temporal, since drug-eluting stents are mostly manufactured by medical-device MNCs, and post 2017, many have either pulled out their state-of-the-art stents from the Indian market or have announced plans to do so. The capping slashed the price of drug-eluting stents by as much as 70%. While a company offset a hit on margins in Maharashtra because of pricing freedom in other stents, post 2017, it is a changed reality for medical-device makers. Top-rung MNCs pulling their products out of the Indian market also has serious implications for patients in the country. The move is likely to deprive them of access to the best, and perhaps the most appropriate, stent technology in the long-run. In any case, if the government felt that there was a problem of lower-income patients being more likely to opt out of life-saving procedures because of high stent costs, it could have defrayed the costs by subsidising stents at public hospitals based on income. The lack of pricing freedom in medical devices sends out signals to the international investing community that regulatory action in India could be a potential threat. It was, therefore, a sane decision when the NPPA decided to hike stent prices in its latest move.

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