Wednesday, 5 November 2014  | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Renowned for cancer treatment, Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) in Mumbai is famous for providing medicines at a concessional rate. Operated under the ministry of health, the hospital takes pride in boasting about the fact that cost of medicines sold in its pharmacies are the lowest available in the market.

Is this really true? 
In fact, patients undergoing treatment at TMH and buying medicine from pharmacies located inside the hospital could be paying between 51% to 64% more than the market price, especially in case of high value medicines prescribed for treatment of various types of cancers and tumours.

How is TMH over-charging?
Early last month i.e. September 2014, a 58-year-old resident of Kalyan – diagnosed with a rare condition called Neuroendocrine Tumor – was admitted at the Homi Bhabha Block of TMH for supportive care. He was prescribed a Novartis branded vial (injection) called Sandostatin LAR 20 mg that carries an MRP of Rs 65,499.

The hospital pharmacy sold the injection at Rs 48,296 giving an impression that it’s being made available at a 26% discount. However, that was not the case, as it was found later. On the day of discharge, the patient’s family was told that a higher dose of the injection will have to be taken every four weeks.

“Given the unaffordable price and uncertainty on how long this injection needs to be taken, I enquired around in the pharmaceutical industry and gathered that the same vial could be directly procured from Novartis for around Rs 28,000,” said the patient’s son.

What did a survey reveal?
An on-the-ground check with pharmacies located around TMH revealed that the same injection could be bought for Rs32,000 odd – clearly indicating that TMH dispensary was overcharging its patients (with similar requirement of the injection) anywhere between 51% and 64%.

“This was very shocking, because I had a tough time making financial arrangements for purchasing the injection at such a short notice. I was under the impression that TMH sold medicines at a concessional rate and here I was being significantly overcharged for what was available in the market for half the cost. What was further shocking is that the injection carried an expiry was November 30, 2014,” he said, expressing concerns on TMH’s work ethics.

TMH’s reaction
Queries seeking clarity sent to TMH administration almost a month ago is yet to elicit any explanation. S Jafry, senior public relations officer, TMH, said, “I’m aware of the complaint and it is being looked into.”

Novartis’ reaction
Novartis India clarified that that all strengths of Sandostatin LAR underwent a downward price revision last year in Q4 2013. “When there is a price change, it is standard practice to inform all stockists via the carrying and forwarding agent about the changed price so that invoicing takes place at the revised price.

“Credit notes are issued to stockists for existing supply so that this product can be sold at the revised price. In the case of Tata Memorial Hospital, we are unable to comment as the hospital receives products via an authorised stockist,” the Novartis India spokesperson confirmed.

Is TMH consciously overcharging?
The pharmaceutical company’s response and TMH’s unwillingness to offer any clarity clearly indicates that either there is a serious glitch in the hospital’s approach to pharmacy inventory management or it is consciously fleecing patients by overcharging for medicines.

Ironically, just last month the Indian drug pricing regulator, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, had imposed a fine of around Rs300 crore on Novartis for overcharging consumers for its painkiller medicine ‘Voveran’. But, who is going to regulate hospitals overcharging patients?