By Gillian M. Cortez

THE PRICE ceilings on patented medicines will be released soon after the issuance of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law Implementing Rules and Regulations next month.

Pharmaceutical Division head Anna Melissa S. Guerrero of the Department of Health (DoH) told BusinessWorld that medicines covered by the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) scheme will be released within the year.

She said such drugs are typically those that have no competition in the market. Further public hearings will be held before a list is finalized.

The DoH hopes to include drugs that address the country’s top 40 health problems in the MRP scheme.

“Priority for the DoH is the UHC act but at the last public hearing, we only published 63 medicines which we said is subject to change. There may be additional drugs,” she said.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said last week that the DoH will be issuing the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the UHC Law on Oct. 10, over seven months since the law was signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte in February. Under the law, the DoH was given 180 days or six months to complete the IRR.

In August, the Drug Price Advisory Council (DPAC) convened for its first public hearing regarding the MRP of selected medicines. The council was formed under the IRR of Republic Act No. (RA) 9502, or the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008. The DPAC is tasked to determine which medicines will be covered under the MRP.

The council will send its recommendation to the Health Secretary, who will then submit the list to Malacañang.

Ms. Guerrero said there is a need for patented medicine prices to fall in time for the first year of implementation of the UHC Law. She added that domestic prices are more expensive compared to other Asian countries.

“The purpose of the DoH is that the cheaper medicines act was put there so we can make it accessible and affordable. From what we see it, mas mataas ang presyo dito (prices are still higher here). You’re selling the same drug in different countries and what we want is the same ang presyo (similar pricing),” Ms. Guerrero said.

In chance remarks to reporters, Mr. Duque noted that the list could exceed 100, saying “There is now an effort to put together at least 120 molecules or 120 drugs and medicines for the maximum retail price list which means the prices of these drugs… will be reduced by different rates.”

He said price orders could be authorized by the issuance of an executive order (EO).