Where to buy cheaper medicines? Log on to DOH ‘drug price watch’ website
In 2002, Edilberto Ingaran Jr., was diagnosed with diabetes. Besides doing regular exercise and keeping tabs on his diet, he has since been taking at least six medicines to keep his sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure at normal levels.
Every month, his medicines cost more than P4,000, which represents the bulk of his earnings from renting out a house, his main source of income after opting for early retirement last year.
“That amount is around 80 to 90 percent of the money I earn every month,” Edilberto said in Filipino.
Huge health expenditure, as in Edilberto’s case, remains a problem in the country. This, along with the wide variation in the prices of drugs available in the market, and the perception that generic drugs are not as effective as the branded ones, are among the existing challenges in improving access to cheaper medicines.
As part of the government’s efforts to achieve greater access to affordable medicines, the Department of Health (DOH) will launch on Tuesday a “drug price watch” website that will help consumers lessen their expenses on medicines by comparing prices of drugs and finding nearby drugstores where the cheapest medicines are available.
When consumers enter the name of the drug they are looking for, and their location, a list will appear showing the prices of the medicine in different drugstores and in DOH hospitals. It will also generate a map of the nearest drugstores where they can get the medicine at its lowest price.
The website (dpw.doh.gov.ph) will initially contain prevailing prices of over 100 medicines and will be updated every six months.
“Consumers can rely on their awareness when buying medicines. You now have more affordable choices and we’re giving you that information so that when you buy the drugs you are able to exercise intelligent choice,” said Anna Melissa S. Guerrero, chief of the Pharmaceutical Division of DOH’s Office for Health Regulations.
There is also a need to change the existing perception that generic medicines, which are cheaper, are of low quality, Guerrero said.
Awareness about generic medicines has increased 27 years after the passage of Republic Act No. 6675, or the Generics Law.
In 1993, a Social Weather Stations survey found that only 34 percent of the respondents who bought medicines chose to buy generics while 53 percent opted for the branded and 14 percent bought both generics and branded.
Industry data estimates that around six in 10 Filipinos now prefer generics over branded ones.
The expansion of the generics market comes with the emergence of “generics-only” chains, such as The Generics Pharmacy and Generika, which made access to generics easier, the Ncpam noted in its 2014 progress report on the Cheaper Medicines Act.
The generics sector has also benefited from aggressive marketing campaigns. A 2015 study conducted by AGB Nielsen, titled “Understanding the Equity and Imagery of Uni-branded Medicines and Vitamins,” cited the success of RiteMed in employing strong and clear campaigns and using celebrities as brand ambassadors such as Susan Roces and Judy Ann Santos to promote market visibility.
Although growth in the generics resulted in improved market competition and drug pricing, some consumers still buy the more expensive branded medicines because they feel that generic medicines are not as effective as the branded ones.
For instance, Edilberto tried using the generic counterpart of his medicines but he said that “it felt different.”
“The first thing that needs change is the perception of the people that if something is cheap, it’s fake,” said Guerrero.
She said the DOH, as mandated by RA 9502 or the Cheaper Medicines Act, monitors the prices of drugs so the agency sees the actual prices of the medicines and the significant markups in the private sector.
Generics contain the same active ingredient found in branded medicines but they are cheaper because they are produced and distributed without patent protection, Guerrero stressed.
Apart from instituting government policies that support the promotion of generics, the DOH launched medicines access programs, which provides free medicines to patients in vulnerable sectors, to ease the burden of health spending, she added.