A Parliamentary panel has recommended framing a new price control regime specific for medicines and medical devices for COVID-19 management and put them under price control with no annual increase in prices allowed till the pandemic is entirely over in the country.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Chemicals and Fertilisers, in its report on availability of medicines and medical devices for COVID-19 management tabled in the Lok Sabha yesterday also recommended covering medical devices for COVID-19 treatment under National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) for effective price control, while also suggesting exemption of basic customs duty and GST on medicines and medical devices for fighting the pandemic.
Citing the example of non-scheduled drug Remdesivir, the price for which varied up to Rs 5,400 per vial but reduced to less than Rs 3,500 per vial voluntarily by major manufacturers and marketers after “proactive” government intervention, the panel suggested effective price control of non-scheduled COVID-19-related medicines and medical devices.
It recommended the DoP and NPPA to “frame a new price control regime specific for medicines and medical devices for COVID-19 management where the distinction between the scheduled and non-scheduled drugs may be done away with and all such medicines and medical devices are put under price control with no annual increase in prices allowed till the pandemic is entirely over in the country.”
The committee said it was informed that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020, India was dependent on high-end imported ventilators and to meet the need of states and hospitals for ventilators, domestic production of ICU ventilators was encouraged. Orders for around 60,000 ventilators were placed for supply to states and Union Territories (UTs).
Ventilators have been notified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) as drugs under Drugs & Cosmetic Act, 1940 from 1st April, 2020, and it is currently under voluntarily licensing regime of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for 42 months till September 2023, it added.
Stating that ventilator is a non-scheduled medical device, the panel said a manufacturer or importer is at liberty to fix the maximum retail price launched by it, but cannot increase it by more than 10 per cent during preceding 12 months.
Since the ventilators are also covered under voluntary licensing regime, the committee said it felt that all medical devices like ventilators, oxygen concentrators should be kept under scheduled drugs category by the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) and the National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority (NPPA), so that these medical devices can be made available to the people and hospitals at affordable prices till the pandemic is completely over.
“The Committee, therefore, recommends that all medical devices critical to COVID-19 treatment like ventilators, oxygen concentrators, etc. should be covered under the National List of Essential Medicines for effective price control,” the report said.
DoP can also consider manufacturing of ventilators by pharma Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) under it to make available quality ventilators at competitive prices to the hospitals, it added.
The panel also recommended exemption of basic customs duty and GST on medicines and medical devices for fighting COVID-19.
“Since the pandemic is creating wave after wave and the people of the country are under constant threat, the committee feel that though the GST Council has reduced the GST on COVID-related medicines and medical devices, the need of the hour is to make these products more affordable to the people,” it said.
It suggested that DoP, in coordination with MoHFW, should “submit a proposal to GST Council to explore the possibility of exempting all the essential medicines and medical devices, including liquid medical oxygen, oxygen concentrators, ventilators, pulse oximeters, hand sanitisers, temperature check equipment, etc. used for the treatment of COVID-19 from the purview of GST.”
Further, it said basic customs duty exemptions on various medicines and medical devices related to COVID-19 may also be continued till the pandemic is over.
Arguing that the price range of the oxygen concentrators is still on the higher side even after Trade Margin Rationalisation (TMR), the panel recommended that the DoP and the NPPA should consider capping of the prices of various types of oxygen concentrators so as to make them affordable to common man.
Edits by EP News Bureau