Focus shifts to expensive pacemakers, lenses, catheters

After the capping of cardiac stent prices, the Rajya Sabha petitions committee has turned its attention to overpricing of other medical devices. On Tuesday, the committee heard the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) and the department of pharmaceuticals (DoP) on the issue. 

The health ministry has classified 22 medical devices, including cardiac stents, as drugs under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940. These include intraocular lens, knee and hip implants, syringes and catheters.

The committee is hearing a petition filed by one Sulagna Chattopadhyay on overpricing of medical devices. The petition had sought measures to regulate the price of medical devices and to investigate the role of regulatory bodies like the drug controller in preventing overpricing.

The All India Drug Action Network, a civil society group working on pricing of drugs and devices, argued before the committee that it was equally important for pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillator, artificial heart valves, intraocular lenses, and hip and knee replacements to be made accessible via price control. The committee has been holding hearings since the beginning of 2016. It has visited several places including Bengaluru, Coorg, Mumbai and Bhopal to hold hearings.

“We asked for more cath labs in the public health system and for fixing procedure rates so cardiac procedures become more affordable. We also want price control of other devices such as pacemakers, cochlear implants and artificial joints,” said Dr Ravi D’Souza of Sochara, a group working on public health. D’Souza had deposed before the committee in Bhopal. 

“After stents, the panel’s focus has shifted to other medical devices. However, there are still loopholes it can help fix: the cost of catheters, balloons, guidewires, which are high. Barely a dent has been made in overall angioplasty costs. Medical device firms and their associations are on a misinformation campaign to safeguard their interests by preventing price regulation of other devices. The committee should move swiftly and recommend price checks on other devices to benefit the poor,” said Malini Aisola of AIDAN. Chattopadhyay said she too has asked for the price of balloons, catheters and guide wires also to be capped to make angioplasty truly affordable. 

(This article was originally published in The Times of India) 

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