The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority of India (NPPA) plans to start a nationwide mass media consumer campaign to create awareness about drug pricing and the availability of low-cost off-label drugs.
Dr A K Banerjee, chairman, NPPA, said that it is in advanced discussions with the consumer affairs ministry to start the campaign. Incidentally, NPPA collected Rs56.5 crore in 2008-09 as penalties, up from Rs4.5 crore in 2007-08.
The budget and launch date of the drug pricing campaign is yet to be fine-tuned. The aim of the campaign is to make consumers aware of the differential pricing of similar drug formulations and about various brands available for the same generic medicine at widely varying prices.
It is quite common for drug companies to sell their products with the same formulations at varying prices under different brands.
NPPA believes that a consumer campaign through various popular media like vernacular print media and television channels will educate customers about various pricing options for medicines and eventually bring down their healthcare cost.
Dr Banerjee explained that the earlier practice was to send reminders to defaulting drug manufacturers, which were largely ignored. Now, a notice is followed by just one reminder.
In case a company fails to respond to a defaul notice from the NPPA, the case is referred to district collectors.
The Supreme Court has directed drug companies to first deposit 50 per cent of the overcharged amounts with the NPPA before contesting its decision in court.
Meanwhile, the pricing authority has also intensified its effort to book pharma companies indulging in overcharging. It has booked 41 cases involving penalty amount of over Rs 116 crore.
NPPA also scans retail prices of essential medicines to save consumers from paying unreasonable prices. NPPA, which was set up in 1999, has fixed prices of 8,231 drugs. But it revised prices of 5,674 medicines in last five years.
NPPA directly controls prices of 74 bulk drugs and all formulations containing any of these bulk drugs. Companies have to approach NPPA for raising prices of such medicines. However, they can raise prices of non-scheduled drugs by 10 per cent in 12 months. Around one-fourth of the Rs35,000-crore domestic pharmaceutical market is under price control.
The new campaign will go hand in hand with the government's recent initiative of selling off-label generic drugs at much lower prices than branded medicines, through stores called Jan Aushadi. The government plans to open these shops in all 550 districts in India.