On February 11, 2020, the Indian Government had gazetted a notification that brought all medical devices and medical equipment sold in India under existing quality and safety regulatory framework by declaring them as “drugs”. However, this notification has exposed all medical devices to India’s drug price control regulation that was put in place to make drugs affordable and accessible as well. So, from April 1, 2020 (i.e. the effective date of the notification), all manufacturers and importers of medical devices and medical equipment sold in India will have to be careful to not increase the maximum retail price of their products by more than 10% within 12 months. They will have to make periodic trade-related filings with the Government in which they will have to submit price information such as price to distributors, price to stockist, price to hospital and price to retailer. And, on top of all this, they will have to operate under constant risk of price fixation at the hands of the Government, like was done in the case of coronary stents and knee implant systems in 2017.
The quality and safety of drugs sold in India is regulated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 (“DCA”). There is no equivalent legislation for medical devices. Therefore, the Indian Government notifies those medical devices whose quality and safety it intends to regulate as ‘drugs’ from time to time.
Prior to February 11, 2020, the Indian Government used to regulate the quality and safety of medical devices in a piecemeal manner. There were only 37 categories of medical devices and medical equipments that had been notified as drugs under DCA (see annexure for this list). However, on February 11, 2020, the Government declared all medical device and medical equipment to be drugs in order to bring them under the fold of quality and safety regulation under DCA, effective April 1, 2020. We have written extensively about it here.
There was a collateral impact of this decision of the Government on price and supply chain of medical devices and medical equipment. India regulates production, control and supply of all essential commodities through a law called the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 (“ECA”). ‘Drugs’ are regulated as an essential commodity under ECA. Therefore, the Government has power to regulate product control and supply of all drugs under ECA. In furtherance of the provision of ECA, the Government has notified a price control order for drugs called the Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013 (“DPCO”).
On February 11, 2020, when the Government decided to regulate all medical devices and medical equipment by notifying them as drugs, it automatically subjected them to the provision of DPCO. The authority responsible for the administration of DPCO, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), has already brought out a clarificatory order stating that the provision of DPCO will squarely apply to all medical devices and medical equipment.
Impact on price and supply of medical devices after April 1, 2020
From April 1, 2020, all medical devices and medical equipment manufacturers and importers will have to comply with the provisions of DPCO. The obligations imposed by DPCO on all manufactures and importers of medical devices and medical equipment are as follows:
Retail sale price to be mentioned on all medical devices, including ones for institutional use: The DPCO requires that every SKU of medical device and medical equipment must be labelled with its maximum retail price (“MRP”) that is to be set by the importer/manufacturer/marketer. The said price must be prefixed by the words “Maximum Retail Price” and suffixed by the words “inclusive of all taxes”.
Before April 1, 2020, there was an exemption available for medical devices and medical equipment that weighed more than 25 kg or that were intended for institutional use, from declaration of MRP under the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodity) Rules, 2011. However, from April 1, 2020, all medical devices and medical equipment, irrespective of their weight and intended use, will have to declare MRP on the label of each SKU in the manner specified above.
% cap on variation of retail sale price: The importers, manufactures and marketers of medical devices will have to be cognizant about variation of the MRP declared on the label of their medical devices. The MRP of the product should not be varied by more than 10% in any 12 month period, else the variation in excess of 10% will be recovered as ‘overcharging’ from the business concerned. For example, if an importer of medical device decides to reduce the MRP by 20%, but after a single quarter decides to return to the original retail price (i.e. increase by around 20%), then it won’t be permitted to do so. It can, at best, increase its MRP by 10% of the reduced price. If it starts selling the product at the original MRP, then the 10% excess will be recovered from the importer on MRP basis i.e. by multiplying the number of units sold with the 10% excess, along with intrest and penalty.
Price related filings to be done from time to time: All importers, manufacturers and marketers of medical devices and medical equipment will have to submit price to distributors/stockists, price to retailers/hospitals and retails sale price in format prescribed under Form V of Schedule II of DPCO (with appropriate modifications) in the event of revision of MRP. The aforesaid information is to be submitted on an online platform called Integrated Pharmaceutical DataBase Management System operated by NPPA.
Risk of price fixation: The NPPA has the powers to fix ceiling prices of any drug under extra-ordinary circumstances and in public interest. Now, from April 1, 2020, this power will extend to all medical devices and medical equipment. Once a price is fixed, the importer, manufacturer and marketer of said medical device has to set its MRP either equal to or below the ceiling price. Most of the times, NPPA also fixes the margins that may be offered to the supply chain and makes the concerned importer/manufacturer/marketer liable for any breach of margin by the supply chain.
In the past, the NPPA has used this power to fix prices of coronary stents and knee implant systems (both devices were notified as drugs in 2005). In the aftermath of the price fixation, many advanced coronary stents were sought to be withdrawn from India by the manufacturers on the grounds of unviability. A prior permission from NPPA is required to withdraw or to reduce production / import of medical device whose prices have been fixed by NPPA in public interest.
Risk of being subject to market based pricing: The Ministry of Health and Family welfare brings about a National List of Essential Medicines (“NLEM”) every few years. Medical devices are also included in the said list from time (e.g. coronary stent). The consequence of being included in NLEM from pricing perspective is that the medical device in question automatically becomes subject to a market price based price control i.e. the MRP of the said device must not exceed the average MRP of all importers, manufacturers and marketers who sell the same device and who have more than 1% market share in that particular device market. The said average MRP (referred to as “Ceiling Price”) is decided and set by NPPA. The Ceiling Price may go up or down every year, depending on the wholesale price index of the Government. The MRP of the medical device will have to be adjusted accordingly. A prior permission from NPPA is required to withdraw or to reduce production / import of medical device which are recognized as ‘essential’ by the Government.
Consequences of non-compliance
There are different consequences associated with different violations. Any violation of DPCO is serious because its parent legislation, the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, stipulates that any breach of DPCO may result in imprisonment and fine for the company and person(s) in-charge of the company for conduct of its business. However, undoubtedly, the most draconian provision of DPCO is the liability to deposit any amount ‘overcharged’ by the importer or manufacturer in breach of DPCO in addition to the interest and penalty.
It is extremely important for medical devices and medical equipment companies doing business in India to be aware of the compliance requirements and obligation under India’s price control law (i.e. EC Act and DPCO). Since all medical devices and medical equipment are now regulated as drugs, and all drugs are treated as essential commodities, an inadvertent violation of India’s price control laws may have serious consequences for the business of these companies.