15 June, 2021

A Bitter Pill For Aam Aadmi

Why is the government afraid to openly debate a move that may quadruple drug prices?

Sandeep Adhwaryu
A Bitter Pill For Aam Aadmi
While we are distracted by fallen gods and bickering billionaires, decisions are being made behind closed government doors that could mean the difference between life and death for millions of Indians. The issue is India's patent law, and this government's decision to avoid any public or parliamentary debate, to sneak in an ordinance (probably based on the bill introduced by the previous regime) to adhere to a World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirement that forces India to offer patents on medicines by January 1, 2005. The new patent law may lead to sky-rocketing prices—the cost of some medicines may double, triple, quadruple, or go even higher. Indian pharmaceutical companies may suffer serious setbacks, as could patients, for whom medicines already comprise an estimated 40-50 per cent of treatment costs.

Patents are temporary monopolies granted by the government and, because they block competition, they allow inventors a free hand with pricing. When economists want evidence of just how high medicine prices could go after patents are introduced, they look, for instance, at...

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