Govt likely to put on hold drug price revision notification

Law Division gives such advice as pharma firms have filed cases in courts

Zafar Bhutta February 17, 2018
The Law and Justice Division emphasised that it could not advise the issuance of a notification for fixing drug prices in sub judice cases. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: The Law Division has advised the government to put on hold a notification about revision in prices of life-saving drugs as pharmaceutical companies have filed several cases in courts in relation to the medicine rates.

The Drugs Act 1976 empowers the federal government to set maximum retail prices of drugs in the wake of recommendations of a drug pricing committee.

The cabinet, in a meeting held in the first week of ongoing month, was informed that the pricing committee had in May and June 2016 recommended upward revision in prices of 123 drugs under the drug pricing policy. At the same time, it also suggested reduction in prices of 104 drugs, show documents.

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However, later it was found that out of the 123 cases recommended for price increase, 62 were sub judice because of cases in the Sindh High Court. On the other hand, of the 104 cases proposed for price reduction, 45 were sub judice.

Citing these limitations, the Law and Justice Division emphasised that it could not advise the issuance of a notification for fixing drug prices in sub judice cases.

Earlier, pharmaceutical companies had earned billions of rupees from consumers during the tenure of previous Pakistan Peoples Party government allegedly in collusion with the drug pricing committee.

Later, they struck a plea bargain deal with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) - the anti-corruption watchdog, which came up with a suggestion that the price increase, which had been approved by the federal cabinet, should be reverted to previous levels.

Plea bargain is a window of opportunity given by NAB to the corrupt that can escape arrest and prosecution by returning the embezzled or ill-gotten money.

NAB informed the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination in December 2016 that during investigation, managements of pharmaceutical companies admitted their guilt and applied for plea bargain to return the unjustified gains following illegal increase in drug prices.

The then NAB chairman accepted the plea bargain applications, which were also approved by the judge of the Accountability Court-1 Islamabad.

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NAB suggested that since the companies had admitted their guilt and returned the wrongful gains, the prices of drugs should be reverted to the levels they stood at before the revision. In that regard, directives may be issued to all the offices concerned for strict implementation of the order.

On the advice of the prime minster, the matter was placed before the pricing committee for its consideration, which in its meeting held on April 10, 2017 recommended pushing back drug prices to the previous levels.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2018.

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