Free healthcare facility may hit fair price drug stores 

Free healthcare facility may hit fair price drug stores
Now that the state is set to offer free healthcare facility at government hospitals, around 100 fair price medicine shops it set up across the state are now staring into an uncertain future.

Of the 121 such shops planned, 109 have been built in government hospitals under public-privatepartnership (PPP) mode. The government, which offered free space and water connection, had floated tenders, seeking agencies that could sell medicines at the least price. The massive discounts were possible as the shops procured drugs from companies selling generic medicines at the lowest prices and subsidies from the government. But now with the state about to give out free medicines to government hospital patients, the shops may find it difficult to sustain as their medicines come for a price, however little it might be.

Though the state issued the free healthcare notice three months ago, the facility will be implemented from December. Director of health (education) Dr Sushanta Bandyopadhyay has held a series of meetings to discuss how to include all patients within the ambit of the scheme.

“The fair price medicine shops were set up to serve government hospitals. Now suddenly , if the government offers free medicines, our existence will be at stake. We don’t know what future holds for us now,” said an owner whose shop stocks 142 medicines, ranging from expensive antibiotics to routine painkillers. He sells medicines at a discount of up to 73%.

It has been decided that hospitals might access the state illness fund to buy medicines beyond the health department’s catalogued medicines. The hospital will be given freedom in buying medicines, pacemakers and stent worth Rs 42,000 per patient.

The state health ministry data shows that from December 2012 to November 2014, the sales from 35 fair price shops was around Rs 414 crore and a discount availed by the people was to the tune of Rs 250 crore, benefiting 85 lakh people. This certainly made it a success story, claimed a health official. Bengal’s initiative of introducing generic drugs to replace expensive branded medicines and bring down the prices of essential drugs caught the fancy policy makers nationwide. The Centre also planned to include this issue in the health policy.