Expensive medicines in CDO

OPINION
February 3, 2020

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BEFORE we get started, a belated 73rd happy birthday to my husband Ronnie. Ronnie and I celebrated his birthday with family and friends last Saturday and it was quite memorable since it was celebrated in Cagayan de Oro City among other things.
Here’s to many more birthdays to come for us Ronnie. Now let’s get down to business.
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I do support a proposal by the 19th City Council’s trade and commerce committee chaired by Councilor George Goking to monitor the prices of medicines sold here in Cagayan de Oro City even if there are already laws in place to ensure that these pharmaceutical drugs are sold cheaply to the masses like the Generics Act and the Senior Citizens Act.
Based on what I read, this development came about after lawyer Jose Edgardo Uy, chairman of City Hall’s Regulatory Compliance Board (RCB) and co-chairman of the City Price Coordinating Council, lost his wife Juliet to health complications last December.  Uy wrote to the Department of Health (DOH-10) regional office complaining about the ’30 to 40’ percent increase in prices of medicines sold inside the pharmacy where his wife was confined which he rightfully described as ‘unconscionable.’
My friend Rhona Canoy wrote a three-part series entitled ‘Picking A Side’ at Mindanao Gold Star Daily that detailed her own frustrations on prices of medicines and the dismal health care setup in the country in response to Uy’s situation and I do agree with her points, though my own experience of undergoing medical treatment for my breast cancer was more positive in the US.
What I can say about it is that it is that the monitoring of medicine prices and its possible regulation to make it more affordable to patients especially the poor is long overdue. One of my official sources told me that there are horror stories of seniors unable to buy medicines from pharmacies that supposedly hide these pharmaceutical drugs like maintenance and hypertension medicines to avoid the hassle of processing the senior ID requirements necessary to justify their payments at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). It goes without saying that perhaps the same things happen to persons with disabilities (PWDs).
One thing I did notice is that there are medicines unavailable at hospital pharmacies which makes it more inconvenient for families who have to go scour the city late at night to buy medicines. If they do buy at hospital pharmacies, likely they would pay double as per Uy’s claim especially private hospitals. Far as I know, items readily available at the hospital pharmacies are the dextrose, cotton and aspirin or paracetamol.
And this is where health insurance should come in and I must say that whatever one’s sentiments about it, it does reduce the anxiety and inconvenience on the part of patients and their families concerning the payment of their medical bills which include the medicines bought at the hospital pharmacy, the dextrose, lab exams, meals, doctor’s fees, confinement at hospital rooms and so on.
Unfortunately, awareness of and access to health insurance is severely limited here in the country most especially to the poor who have to rely on the charity of others especially their local officials and legislators in Congress to pay for most, if not all their medical bills. That’s both tragic and frustrating for those who wish that the government can do something more to provide for the Filipinos especially the poorest of the poor.
There will be arguments on how this can be achieved and I won’t go into political debates about it. Suffice it to say that the Department of Health (DOH) through its Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has the authority to regulate and even impose price controls on medicines should the situation require it. That’s what Uy and others who experienced being shortchanged by private hospitals are calling on the DOH to do and it seems the agency doesn’t want to do so.
Whether one likes it or not, hospitals are run like any other business and they, particularly their doctors, do earn profit from the medicines sold by those multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies. How the national and local governments specifically Cagayan de Oro City Hall deal with that situation is anyone’s guess. For now, the DOH, FDA and the pharmacies operating in the city should shed light on why it is so expensive to buy medicines here. (For questions and comments email me at susanap@yahoo.com)


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