Why only now, GSK?
Spending my morning scanning the pages of newspapers, I saw a one-page ad of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Philippine Daily Inquirer, announcing that it has dropped the prices of most of its major medicines by 30 to 50 percent. This was supplemented by a press release in Commuter Express, stating that the campaign aims to make quality medicines affordable to more Filipinos.
This got me thinking. Why only now, GSK?
GSK has been in the Philippines for several years now. It is known for its banner asthma brand Ventolin, a product my sister-in-law uses. I myself have patronized Gardasil, GSK’s anti-cervical vaccine. Hindi matatawaran ang galing ng GSK (no one can doubt the quality of GSK products).
But the move to reduce its prices leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Why only now? For years, medicines in the country are so expensive that not all Filipinos can afford them. If not for the efforts of Unilab and Pascual Lab, I can just imagine the plight of millions of Filipinos who cannot get well because they can’t afford to buy the medicines.
And now that the Cheaper Medicines Bill has been enacted into law, allowing Filipinos to have access to quality and affordable medicines, I feel that this price reduction move of GSK is just a sorry attempt to save GSK’s bottom line. Honestly, if GSK was really concerned with the welfare of the Filipino people, GSK could have slashed its prices many years ago. The attempt to reduce GSK’s prices just reeks of insincerity.
And here’s the fine print. Below the print ad are three bullet points, stating the conditions of the price reduction scheme. The first two bullet points are okay but the third one is the clincher
1. Ang pagbaba ng presyo o discount ay maaaring magbago depende sa gamot, pero halos lahat ay nasa 30-50% range. (The price reduction or discount may change depending on the medicine, but almost all prices are within the 30-50% range.)
2. Kumunsulta sa doktor para malaman kung angkop sa iyo ang mga gamot na ito. Kailangan ng reseta ng doktor para makabili ng mga ito. (Consult with your doctor regarding the most appropriate medicine for your health condition. A prescription is required to buy these medicines.)
3. Maliban sa reseta, kinakailangang sumali sa patient programs para makakuha ng discount sa mga gamot na gamit sa mga pang-matagalang sakin. Sumangguni sa inyong doktor para makasali. (Aside from the prescription, you need to join GSK’s patient programs to avail of the discounts for maintenance drugs. Ask your doctor on how to join.)
Why is the third point important? The third point merely tells us that the price reduction is not good for everyone, that to be able to avail of the discount, one has to join GSK’s patient programs. But what if the patient doesn’t want to join the program but is in dire need of the medicines? Does it mean he will not be able to avail of the discount? What if the patient is not aware of the program but his family needs to buy the medicines right away? Does the patient have to go through all the process of registration, processing and all to avail of the discount?
Truth be told, if GSK wants to safeguard public health, then it should just reduce its prices across-the-board and without the need to enrol a patient in a program. Unilab and Pascual are able to do this. Their prices are affordable across-the-board. If local pharmaceutical companies like Unilab and Pascual can do it, then I don’t see any reason why GSK can’t follow suit.