Bhupendra Singh, chairperson of the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, has been transferred and appointed the chairperson of the National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention. The drug regulator under Singh’s chairmanship had recently exposed how private sector hospitals were making excessively high profits by overcharging patients for medicines and medical consumables.
The NPPA is responsible for regulating drug prices and ensuring their availability. On February 20, the authority released a report exposing the huge profits made by private hospitals by inflating bills for medicines as well as medical equipment like syringes and gloves. The margins of profit on some items are as high as 1,700%, the study found. The regulator called for policy interventions to curb profiteering, a move that health activists say has made many people in the government and private health sector uncomfortable.
Under Singh’s chairmanship, the authority also invoked special regulatory provisions to cap prices of cardiac stents and knee implants to make those more affordable even though they do not fall under the list of medical devices under price control. In February 2017, the NPPA exercised its powers under paragraph 19 of the Drugs (Price Control) Order, which allows the government to fix a ceiling price of a drug or device in such extraordinary circumstances and in case of public interest “as it deems fit”.
At the same time, the draft pharmaceutical policy indicates the government’s intent to dilute the drug regulator’s power. Malini Aisola from All India Drug Action Network said that Singh’s transfer is a message from the government that anybody who tries to curb profiteering will be shunted out. “Under him, we saw transparency and data on profit margins enjoyed by companies and hospitals were shared in public domain,” she said. “It was evident that the multinational companies manufacturing stents and private healthcare were upset with the way NPPA was exposing their unethical profiteering.”
A report by Reuters said that US lawmakers had urged the Narendra Modi-led government to reconsider the price cap on stents in June 2017.
In 2015, Injeti Srinivas was transferred after less than a year as NPPA chairperson. Srinivas had attempted to bring widely-used diabetic and cardiac medicines and stents under price control, according to a report in the Times of India.
Singh is one of the 30 bureaucrats appointed to new posts as of February 28.
The government has not yet appointed a new NPPA chairperson. The All India Drug Action Network is in the process of writing to the government to allow Singh to hold a dual charge and continue heading the NPPA. “To maintain the independence of NPPA, they chairperson should have fixed term periods,” said Aisola.
Scroll.in made repeated attempts to contact Singh but he has not been available for comment.