Regulate stent prices to prevent exploitation of patients: health campaigners

While the government fixes the prices of stents, it must also take urgent action to investigate corrupt practices and overcharging

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Monday 30 January 2017

With the evidence of over-pricing now crystal clear, government must act to control the prices of these life-saving devices. Credit: Lenore Edman / Flicker As it has become evident that patients in need of coronary stents are forced to pay 1000 to 2000 times of manufacturing cost in India, public health campaigners, today (January 30), requested the Centre to regulate its price, and that too rationally.

After analysing the industry figures, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has recently published data which indicates that by the time the patient gets the stent, the increase from the original cost of the stent is often in the range of 1000-2000 per cent.

“With the evidence of over-pricing now crystal clear, the government must act immediately to control the prices of these life-saving devices,” said Advocate Birender Sangwan. He has filed two PILs in Delhi High Court that led to the inclusion of stent in the list of essential medicine.

He further said, “There is a clear obligation under the Constitution for the government to fulfill the fundamental right to health and ensure affordability of medical devices such as stents.”

Subsequent to its inclusion in essential medicine list, the government is supposed to regulate the prices. However, these experts fear that the pressure from private sector may dilute the whole process.

“Reports indicate that companies and industry associations are lobbying intensely for a ceiling price based on a simple average of hospital prices which will ensure that the profiteering continues unabated and hospitals can take huge cuts on the stents. There is an urgent need to fix the price at an affordable price that does not expose people to the exploitation of hospitals and stent manufacturers,” said Malini Aisola of All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN).

Following the second petition, filed by Sangwan, the court has directed the government to make a report to the court after notifying the ceiling prices. As the NPPA is examining different formulas to fix an affordable price for stents, industry lobbying to thwart these efforts appears to have increased in recent weeks, says Aisola adding that there are also attempts, primarily by foreign companies and cardiologists acting on their behalf, to exclude from price control the highest priced stents, which also happen to dominate the market.

“We have consistently highlighted the unconscionable prices that patients across the country are paying for stents that are pushing patients and their families into increasing indebtedness or leaving them without life-saving treatment,” said Mira Shiva of the AIDAN. “The pricing data, which was submitted by the industry to the NPPA, has made it clear beyond doubt,” she said.

The NPPA data also shows that the largest cut goes to the hospital, which can be as high as 650 per cent more than the price at which the hospital purchases the stents from the distributor.

“We are extremely alarmed at the role that doctors and hospitals are playing in exorbitant pricing of stents,” said Arun Mitra of the Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare (ADEH). “While the government fixes the prices of stents, it must also take urgent action to investigate and haul up the medical establishment for corrupt practices and overcharging. A mandatory ethical marketing code that covers medical devices must be immediately implemented,” he added.

The issue of high pricing of stents has also attracted the attention of the Rajya Sabha’s Committee on Petitions, which is investigating into the matter in response to a petition submitted by Sulagna Chattopadhyay.

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