Lawmakers consider capping the price of drugs

Lawmakers are considering a proposed law that would fix mandatory ceilings on the prices of drugs and order physicians to prescribe generic versions of medicines when available.

The proposal, No. 17.738, also creates a commission in the economics ministry to fix the top prices for drugs and authorizes stiff fines for sales of drugs above the listed price.

The 14-page proposal also includes rules on purchasing drugs by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Also prohibited would be monopolistic practices, and no firm would be allowed to control more than 60 percent of the market for a specific drug.

Lawmakers in the special commission studying the economic situation of the Caja heard testimony Wednesday from representatives of an entity known as the Asociación Farmacéuticos de Comunidad. They favored the proposed controls.

Top prices would be set by a five-person regulating commission based on the prices of the same drug in seven countries at a similar state of development, says the text of the measure. The price also would reflect the therapeutic value of new medicines, it says.

The job would be mostly that of the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio, which has a consumer agency. Maximum prices of drugs would be published in the La Gaceta official newspaper several times a year.

Physicians would have to prescribe the generic version of a drug unless there was a valid medical reason for prescribing brand names, said the text.

The Caja also would be instructed to seek discounts in bulk purchases.

The impact of the measure is hard to predict. Many generic versions of drugs are made in Third World countries. Some have been criticized for not providing the benefits of brand name medicines or for having less potency.

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