NEW DELHI :  The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has asked the Centre to take urgent steps to stop the pharmaceutical firms fleecing patients and making “excessive profits,” citing a case of a wide gap in the retail prices of a drug sold by a multinational company.

No pharmaceutical firm be allowed excessive profits in violation of ethics and morality, the Commission said while directing the government to force multinational Novartis to reduce the maximum retail price (MRP) of Octreotide it sells in India for treating the non-cancerous tumours.

Noting that the printed MRP of the drug is Rs 58,000 per injection, it said the company eventually provided it to a patient for Rs 29,000 and that means it earned more than 100 per cent profit, the Commission said in an order on a revision petition filed by the company against the Kerala State Consumer Commission that had ordered it to pay Rs 1 lakh to the family of the 17-year-old patient who had taken the drug after a brain tumour operation.

“Steps should be taken to re-fix the MRP so that the consumers do not suffer,” said the commission headed by Justice J M Malik with S M Kanitkar as a member.

The ruling comes amid concerns among sections of public health professionals that drug price cap regulations adopted by the government last year impose price caps on only 348 drugs and allow companies many different routes to evade the price ceilings.

The case before the Commission was that of Kerala resident J. Anto whose 17-year-old son Tomes Anto had undergone surgery for a brain tumour. He remained sick for some time and started growing taller because of excess production of the growth hormone. A doctor prescribed him Octreotide injection which was to be given monthly and would cost them Rs 58,000 per injection.

The company initially sold the drug at Rs 58,000 but later gave the patient a discount of 50 per cent, bringing down the price to Rs 29,000 per injection. The complainant had purchased eight injections amounting to over Rs 3.5 lakh. He submitted that had he been offered the discount earlier, he could have saved over Rs 1 lakh and asked the company to refund the amount. He won the case before the state consumer commission. Even while directing the government to curb excessive prices of medicines, the national bench allowed the company’s plea that while no one can charge an amount higher than the MRP, a drug can be sold at a lower rate than the MRP.

The bench observed that by no stretch of imagination can this be described as an unfair trade practice and there is no impediment in giving a medicine below the MRP.

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