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Competition watchdog flags high cost of medicine

THE NEED to address concern over the high cost of medicines in the Philippines has been made more urgent by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) said.

“PCC has done industry studies on the sector, and we have been working with other parties to understand better the sector,” Arsenio M. Balisacan, chairman of the competition watchdog, said at a virtual event on Friday.

Rising drug prices have been a concern long before the pandemic. President Rodrigo R. Duterte last year signed an executive order setting price controls on certain drugs.

The Health department in April issued a warning against overpricing remdesivir, an “investigational” drug being used to treat COVID-19 patients.

There needs to be an assessment on why the cost of medicines in the Philippines is higher than countries like Thailand and other developing countries, Mr. Balisacan said.

“I would expect that even without the pandemic, our interest in this issue of the high cost of medicine in the Philippines is there,” he said.

The PCC in a policy note last year said that small pharmaceutical firms are struggling to compete in a domestic market dominated by multinational and consolidated companies. The top 20 pharmaceutical firms, the PCC said, accounted for 73% of the market.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the priority sectors under the competition watchdog’s scrutiny.

Its priority sectors for 2021 are e-commerce, health and pharmaceuticals, insurance, logistics and shipping, energy and electricity, water supply and distribution, real estate, and food — or what Mr. Balisacan calls “essential sectors that have become even more relevant due to the ongoing pandemic.”

“What we are really after when we say that these are the priority sectors — it could mean that we are giving particular sizeable resources… so that we can do more market studies for the sectors so we are able to understand pretty well the competition concerns,” Mr. Balisacan said.

“We may already have some verified complaints from parties and we can use this as vehicle for the investigation,” he added. “(Businesses) don’t have to worry if they’re not doing anything that’s against the public interest.” — Jenina P. Ibañez

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