New Delhi: Informing that 615 essential drugs have been brought under price control mechanism, government today told the Lok Sabha that the costs of medicines have reduced over the last six months and more steps are in the offing to check prices.
Government said that by next month, it will come out with a new list of life-saving drugs whose prices would be controlled.
Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister Ananth Kumar said since the new government came to power in May, 175 essential drugs have been added to the list of drugs which are under price control mechanism, taking the number to 615 as 440 were already covered under it.
New steps are being planned to check prices and increase availability of generic drugs, he said replying to a Calling Attention Motion.
In the motion, Congress members Ranjeet Ranjan and Susmita Dev accused the government of allowing substantial hike in essential drug prices, including those used for treating cancer, heart ailments, HIV and diabetes.
They attacked the government for the botched up sterlisation cases in Chhattisgarh which had claimed 17 lives recently, saying rise in drug prices as well as easy availability of spurious medicines were the major reasons for this.
To this, Health Minister J P Nadda promised stringent action to prevent such incidents in the future.
"(Medical) camps are not target-oriented but demand driven ... (Following the Chhattisgarh incident) we have issued advisories and are reviewing their functioning to make such camps more effective," he said.
While Kumar said 3,000 outlets to sell generic drugs would be opened across the country, Nadda said the government would come out by January with a new list of life-saving drugs whose prices would be controlled.
"In the last six months, the price of no drug or medicine has been hiked" and there is no question of prices skyrocketing, Kumar said, terming it as "misinformation campaign".
"The aim of the government is to ensure good quality and affordable medicines for people," he noted.
Participating in the debate, BJP member Varun Gandhi said that earlier price control regime had led to muted capital investments and lesser expenditure on research and development, which led to shortage of medicines.
When he claimed that drug prices have remained at almost same levels, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan told him, "The Minister will reply (to the debate). If you have seek clarification, you can ask."
Responding to the discussion, Kumar refuted allegations that price of medicines have shot up in recent months. If at all something has happened, it is only that drug prices have come down under the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government, he claimed.
To keep a tab on price of drugs, government is conceptualising the idea of having 'Price Monitoring Resource Unit' in each state.
"This would be a progressive step," Kumar said.
To ensure proper availability of generic drugs to common people, the government is planning to set up about 3,000 stores that would sell these medicines in different parts of the country.
In this regard, Kumar said he has already written to chief ministers and health ministers of states.
States can enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Centre and the latter would help them in setting up generic drug stores.
"The plan is to have generic drugs store in every government hospital even at the district level," Kumar said.
Nadda said the government would come out with an action programme to curb the menace of spurious drugs by increasing manpower, strengthening infrastructure and capacity of laboratories.
He also said a core committee under the Director General of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) will suggest a new list of medicines that can be brought under price control.
The list, likely to be ready by January, would be prepared after following scientific standards, he added.
On steps being taken by the government to prevent incidents like botched up sterilisation in Chhattisgarh that resulted in death of many women, Nadda said action has been taken and more "stringent action" would be initiated.
He said such incidents happened not only in Chhattisgarh but also in some other states.
Kumar denied charges that government is interfering with the functioning of National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA).
According to him, price control of 108 drugs -- as decided by way of guidelines in May and later through an order in June -- remains in place.
Noting that there would be "no going back" on the decision, Kumar said the guidelines were withdrawn by NPPA itself to make certain changes that are in tune with 2011 policy.
The price control on 108 drugs resulted in pharmaceutical companies incurring a loss of about Rs 350 crore and they went to court. However, the court has not so far stayed the price control move, the Minister said.
Besides, Kumar rejected allegations that price of a cancer drug has gone up from about Rs 8,500 to Rs 1,08,000 and described it as "totally false".
Referring to botched up sterilisation camp in Chhatisgarh, Susmita Dev (Cong) said such incidents underline the need for having a new focus on sustainable development.
"Population is a challenge but dignity of a women is a greater challenge... We need to re-look at the family planning programme," she noted.
Ranjeet Ranjan (Cong) said there should be a regulatory body to ensure protection for patients and wondered why so much commercialisation has happened in medical profession.
Varun Gandhi (BJP) called for a middle path with regard to drug prices by keeping the interests of pharma industry and patients in mind and said, "this is 2014. This is not the age of Fabian Socialism".
Government should protect the poorest and the industry, he added.