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Expect cheap blood tests & drugs within first 100 days of Modi 2.0

To make healthcare cheaper, Modi govt is said to have a plan ready to open thousands of pathology labs for ‘affordable, reliable’ blood tests.

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New Delhi: Over the first three months of a second term earned with a resounding margin, the Narendra Modi government may surprise patients with more affordable medicines as well as cheap blood tests.

Sources in the Department of Pharmaceuticals and the government’s drug-pricing watchdog, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), which fall under the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, told ThePrint that they are set to launch a host of measures to make healthcare cheaper for the common Indian.

The proposals are all part of the 100-day plan prepared by the ministry, in keeping with a government directive issued ahead of the elections.

The ministry is said to be planning to launch pathology labs at more than 5,000 Jan Aushadhi outlets across India, besides capping traders’ profit margins. A scheme to encourage domestic production of raw material for medicines is also in the wings, to reduce India’s dependence on imports.

Pathology labs

The move to set up thousands of pathology labs is aimed at pushing the Modi’s government flagship health scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP), also known as the Jan Aushadhi Yojana.

A failing scheme under the UPA, the endeavour received a big push under the NDA, which oversaw the setting up of over 5,000 Jan Aushadhi centres to sell cheap generics.

“We are considering a proposal to open path labs with an objective of creating convenience for the common man to get blood tests done at reasonable prices,” a senior official from the Department of Pharmaceuticals told ThePrint. “There are thousands of path labs mushrooming across India but with no guarantee for their results.”

The proposal has been drafted by the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI), the agency handling the implementation of the scheme, and overseen by the Department of Pharmaceuticals.

“We were asked to prepare the 100-day plan immediately after the third phase of polling in April,” the official added. “Now, the proposal will be considered for the final implementation.”


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Capping traders’ margins

Another objective on the horizon is a cap of 30 per cent on trader profit margins for all medicines, to make them more affordable.

Reducing the prices of medical devices and drugs has been a constant endeavour of the Modi government, which has introduced price-caps for a host of products such as stents and orthopaedic implants.

On 8 March, two days before the Election Commission announced the elections, the NPPA issued a list of 390 cancer drugs whose maximum retail price had been slashed by up to 87 per cent, by restricting the profit margin to 30 per cent.

The new plan, as mentioned earlier, is to expand the relief across all categories.

“The objective is to curb profiteering across all medicines,” said a senior official of the NPPA.

“We have seen that a 30 per cent margin is quite decent, and it has caused no hue and cry in the industry,” the official added, “It shows that the traders were charging phenomenal margins earlier.”

Discounts for bulk drug-makers

The government is also likely to announce the development of industry parks for bulk drugs, besides special incentives for their manufacturers to promote indigenous production.

Bulk drugs are raw materials used in the manufacture of medicines, also known as active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). For example, paracetamol is a bulk drug used to make the painkiller Crocin.

Through the parks, the government is likely to offer manufacturers benefits such as land at discounted prices, tax holidays, and water and electricity at the lowest possible rates.

India is currently dependent on Chinese imports for bulk drugs. Over the last few months, the price of Chinese bulk drugs has gone up, which has affected prices of medicines in India as well.

According to data from research firm India Ratings and Research, in 2014, India imported 2.46 lakh tonnes of API, of which 1.47 lakh, about 60 per cent, was from China.

In 2018, India imported 3.10 lakh tonnes, of which 1.86 lakh was from China, again around 60 per cent.


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