(Adds government comments)
MANILA, July 20 (Reuters) - Big international pharmaceutical firms in the Philippines have offered to lower prices of dozens of best-selling drugs to stop the government imposing price controls, an industry spokesman said on Monday.
The government said it would still consider putting price ceilings on about six to seven products because the cut offered by drug companies was way below the 50 percent reduction mandated by law, Health Secretary Francisco Duque told reporters.
“We have to do what we need to do,” Duque said after reviewing the proposals. “I think they have been selling medicines in this country for such a high price compared to the other countries. So, they’ve generated hefty profits from the Filipinos for the longest time.”
He said the new prices for about 80 drug products would take effect on Aug. 15 after the president signs an executive order this week.
On Saturday, about 50 drug-makers led by the world’s largest, Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) of the United States, voluntarily offered to lower prices by an average of 50 percent for about 80 drug products for illnesses such as hypertension, cancer and diabetes to beat a government deadline.
The industry’s offer to cut prices could reduce sales by as much as 7-10 billion pesos ($146-208 million) a year, making it hard for smaller drug companies that produce and market three or four products to survive, said Reiner Gloor, head of the local pharmaceutical and healthcare industry group.
The Philippines passed a law in 2008 to lower medicine costs, mandating the president to impose price ceilings on commonly used drugs, which have sold for as much as 200 percent higher than in other Asian countries such as India and Thailand.
The industry opposed moves to introduce price controls, looking at the maximum retail price mechanism under the law as a form of regulation, said Gloor, adding some drugs could continue to be inaccessible to the poor unless the healthcare system was reformed.
“That sends a wrong signal for the country, which has followed free market policy,” Gloor told Reuters in an interview. “We’ve given the president an option in making a decision on whether there should be price control or not.
“It’s something the president would like to have, considering that this has become a popular issue in an interesting period we are entering in the country,” Gloor said, referring to general elections in May 2010.
The Philippines imposed price controls on medicines during the 1970s when the country was under martial law before the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was toppled by a popular uprising in 1986. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Rosemarie Francisco)