DOH told to address overpricing of COVID-19 medications

Published April 23, 2021, 7:52 AM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Lawmakers have prodded the Department of Health (DOH) to address the reported overpricing of drugs being prescribed to novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients.

At the House inquiry Thursday, April 22, on the DOH and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) policies for the registration, distribution and use of the potential COVID-19 drugs, AnaKalusugan Party-List Representative Mike Defensor presented receipts from various individuals showing their hospital expenses for buying medications for their treatment.

One receipt showed that a patient in the City of Manila paid P10,852.39 for each dose of anti-viral drug remdesivir, more than triple its original price of P3,055. The patient was made to pay a total of P32,557.17 for three shots.

A vial of the anti-viral drug remdesivir. The Department of Health says it has received complaints from patients that some hospitals are overpricing the drug. (AFP/Ulrich Perrey)

Two patients from Laguna, meanwhile, paid P12,090 for each shot of remdesivir, when the original price was P2,268.

Another patient in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, was charged about P19,000 for two shots of a different brand of remdesivir, which originally costs only P1,950 per dose. The same brand was bought by a patient from Quezon City, who paid P14,625 per dose, while another from a different hospital was charged over P15,000.

From a unit price of P6,200, one brand of remdesivir even reached an amount of P48,241 per dose, Defensor’s presentation showed.

The DOH allows the use of remdesivir only for critical and severe COVID-19 cases, based on World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity Trials.

Dr. Melissa Guerrero of the DOH’s Pharmaceutical Division agreed that “there is some overpricing” of the drug. She told lawmakers that the issue has been brought to their attention, prompting the agency to issue a suggested retail price (SRP) for COVID-19 drugs.

“And right now, we have issued a revised suggested retail price for remdesivir, because a lot of patients have been complaining. Ang quotation po na binigay sa amin ng industry (The quotation given to us by the industry) is that the wholesale price is anywhere from P2,000 to P5,000, so we revised the SRP,” Guerrero said.

She appealed to the public to report to DOH the hospitals that are imposing excessive fees so they can be investigated. Hospitals found overpricing will be penalized under the Price Act, she said.

The House members, however, were not satisfied with the DOH’s call and pressed for more actions from the agency.

Defensor wanted the patients reimbursed for the amounts exceeding the SRP.

Guerrero, however, explained that since remdesivir has not yet been given an emergency use authorization from the FDA, it is not yet covered by the benefits under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

“Wala namang pakialam ‘yong tao kung maparusahan ‘yong mga ospital, eh…Ang gusto ng tao, mabalik man lang ‘yong pera niya (People do not care if the hospitals are penalized. What they would want is to get their money back),” Defensor pointed out.

“And that, I think, should be the one studied by the DOH,” he added.

ACT Teachers Party-List France Castro also lamented the soaring prices of drugs for COVID-19 patients. She said a friend resorted to writing a promissory letter to a hospital for a P400,000 bill, some P122,000 of which were expenses for medicines.

“Nasa panahon tayo ng krisis, pero parang ginamit ang panahon sa pagsasamantala sa ating mga pasyente…Ito sobra pong pagsasamantala sa ating mga mamamayan (We are in a crisis, but it appears that this crisis is being used to take advantage of patients. This is too much for our countrymen),” Castro said.

“Pwede po bang mas maging proactive ang aksyon ng ating DOH? Hindi lang kasi — parang ano, eh — pag mayroon lang nagsumbong. Kasi parang policy na ito eh, ilang ospital na ‘yong may mga ganito (Can’t the DOH be more proactive in its actions? That it will not only act on complaints? Because it seems like this has been a policy of hospitals, that several hospitals are already imposing these prices),” she appealed.

Castro called for a “continous monitoring” of hospitals by the DOH.