Despite Arroyo Order Cutting Some Prices, Drugs, Medicines Will Remain Expensive

“The mechanism used in determining the drugs for compulsory MDRP has been pegged on the drug originator price, which, though slashed to about 50 percent, is still expensive,” said Nolasco.

Originator brand refers to the product that was first authorized worldwide for marketing, usually as a patented product. Meanwhile, a generic product is a product other than the originator that is marketed after the expiry of the patent of the originator, regardless of whether it is marketed under a brand name or not.

A pharmacy clerk showing one of the drugs whose prices will be cut. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao /

As example of the misleading MDRP under EO 821, Nolasco cited amlodipine which is used to lower blood pressure. The maximum retail price of amlodipine 10mg would now be P38.50, about half the price of its originator brand Norvasc 10mg sold at P77 in a leading drug store. “Why set an MDRP for this medicine at this amount when its generic equivalent is sold at P15 at a known drugstore selling generic medicines?” CAE asked.

Drugs Still Not Affordable

In a survey led by the Health Action Information Network (Hain) on medicine prices and availability in the first quarter of 2009, they found out that originator brands of medicines are “several times more expensive than the lowest priced generic counterpart.” Amlodipine, one of the five medicines selected by EO 821, is over three times more expensive than its cheapest generic counterpart.

This means that cutting the originator brand price by 50 percent would still leave drugs like amlodipine 150 percent more expensive than its cheapest generic counterpart.

Relating the drugs’ prices to the daily lowest wage earners in the government, Dr. Marlene Bermejo of Hain found out that a course of treatment for select medicines usually requires several days’ wages— almost five days’ wages for the originator brand of amlodipine, and one and a half days’ wages for its cheapest counterpart. For those not regularly earning as much as P279.50 per day, the lowest government wage at the time of Hain’s survey, it would take more days’ work to buy the required course of treatment.

In the interest of Filipinos, the list of medicines to be placed under MDRP should include more essential medicines that are widely used, said CAE. The MDRP should also be pegged at prices that an ordinary worker can afford with his meager income. “Government should promote and make available quality generic medicines as a viable alternative to expensive brand medicines,” the CAE said.

Yet, despite the limitations of the EO 821, private hospitals are opposing it and are even planning a “hospital holiday” in light of the law’s implementation.

But the “hospital holiday” will affect patients even more, said HEAD’s Nolasco. “The government must exhaust all means to settle the problem and spare the people another burden.” (

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