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Health Ministry working to improve drug industry

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry, with the help of the Malaysia Competition Commission (MyCC), has begun administrative interventions to improve the pharmaceutical industry.

The Government was committed to making affordable medicine accessible to Malaysians, said its Pharmaceutical Services Division deputy director Salbiah Mohd Salleh.

“We have proposed standard pricing to healthcare providers. We want to make sure there is no market exclusivity for a product to any channel. And we want a system for control and accountability,” she said.

However, Salbiah acknowledged that MyCC was “not happy with her division” for uploading a consumer price guide on the Internet, at The guide contains prices of medicine as listed by suppliers. It serves as a benchmark for consumers to find out whether they have overpaid for a certain drug.

“I know some stakeholders are not happy about this. But having a guide is better than not having one,” Salbiah said.

However, this could be regarded as price fixing, which is prohibited under the Competition Act and explains why it is frowned upon by the MyCC.

Some experts believe that government-imposed price control might not be the best way to make medicine more affordable.

Countries that imposed a fixed price for medication would run the risk of “market distortion” – when manufacturers become unwilling to produce at such an unprofitable price, or pass on the cost to consumers via other products.

At a forum on Competition Law in the Pharmaceutical Sector yesterday, a policy analyst at India’s Consumer Unity and Trust Society, Ujjwal Kumar, said price control should be a last resort.

Jorge Nieto Rueda from Spain’s National Authority for Markets and Competition agreed, saying that if a government decides to implement price control, “it must be carefully balanced”.

Both experts agreed that increased transparency in the pharmaceutical sector would help address “information asymmetry” and by extension, make medicine more affordable.

The forum’s moderator, Prof Datuk Dr Sothi Rachagan, said there would be better transparency if doctors were required to give patients an itemised prescription containing the chemical names of the medicine instead of prescribing a drug by its brand name.

“This would allow patients to choose the brand of medicine they need,” he said.

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