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Supreme Court Takes Notice of PIL Urging Action Against Doctors Favoring Brand Name Medicines Over Generics
The Supreme Court has responded to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that calls for measures and guidelines to address the practice of medical practitioners prescribing brand-name medications instead of more affordable generic alternatives.
The PIL highlights that generic drugs contain the same active ingredients as branded counterparts but are not marketed under specific brand names, making them notably cheaper.
The court, initially hesitant, advised the petitioner to communicate their concerns to the Indian Medical Council.
However, after learning about existing regulations emphasizing generic drug prescription since 2002, the court formally issued a notice.
“We’ll consider it. Issue Notice,” stated the Chief Justice.
The PIL, submitted under Article 32 of the Constitution by RTI activist and environmentalist Kishan Chand Jain, contends that prioritizing generic drugs in prescriptions can alleviate financial burdens on patients and enhance their access to essential medications.
Jain asserts that the regulations, established to ensure generic drug use, lack effective enforcement mechanisms, such as disciplinary actions, surprise prescription checks, and audits.
Jain underscores the significance of cost in medicine access, pointing out that generic drugs, with identical active ingredients to branded counterparts, are significantly cheaper.
Prices for generic medicines, which are off-patent, can be 50% to 90% lower than branded options.
This substantial price difference increases affordability and accessibility, benefiting a wider population, as per the PIL.
Jain highlights India’s efforts to promote generic drug use by implementing regulations that stress prescribing drugs by their generic names.
The PIL references the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette, and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, which emphasize the importance of generic drug prescription.
The PIL argues that the relevant bodies, such as the EMRB and State Medical Councils, have not effectively enforced these regulations, causing hardship for marginalized communities and contributing to a “health crisis.”
The absence of provisions to cap maximum retail prices for non-scheduled formulations, including generic versions, is also criticized for giving manufacturers unchecked authority over pricing.
Referring to a Rajasthan High Court judgment, the PIL cites the right to obtain affordable treatment as an aspect of Article 21 of the Constitution. Failure to prescribe medicines by their generic names could violate this right, the court observed. The PIL points to Indian Medical Council Regulations, Clause 1.5, which mandates physicians to prescribe drugs using generic names, failure of which may be seen as “professional or ethical misconduct.”
Jain also relies on a recent Supreme Court judgment, where concerns were raised about doctors being influenced by pharmaceutical companies’ freebies, leading to higher drug costs. Seeking specific remedies, the PIL calls for disciplinary actions against doctors not adhering to generic drug prescription, setting Maximum Retail Prices (MRP) for non-scheduled formulations and generic medicines, surprise prescription checks, and prohibiting the use of brand names for off-patent drugs, among other relief measures.
Cause Title: Kishan Chand Jain v. Ethics And Medical Registration Board (Emrb) (Erstwhile Medical Council Of India) and Ors. [W.P.(C) No. 794/2023]