June 14, 2024

The alleged connivance of some physicians with a pharmaceutical company involving millions worth of commissions from prescription and sale of medicines, if found true, is a downright blow not only to the country’s medical profession but also to government efforts to make healthcare safe, affordable, and accessible to all Filipinos.
Based on the privilege speech of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada at the Senate plenary session on April 29, this practice may be likened to a multilevel marketing scheme, where one’s membership and deeds promise huge profits in return.
In this case, doctors become part of a group organized by a pharmaceutical firm upon recommendations based on friendship, practice, and influence.
According to the senator’s detailed report, entry-level investment costs around P250,000 to P500,000. Members also undergo a lecture on financial freedom, which the firm claims only it can provide.
Before becoming a member, a doctor must prescribe the firm’s medicines and supplements, and their productivity would be strictly monitored.
Benefits awaiting members are mind-boggling: rebates of usually around P2 million based on their monthly productivity that are convertible to cash, luxury cars, and other expensive items; and milestone points that can be used to redeem items such as gadgets, foreign travel, yearly performance bonus, and dividends.
The Filipino-owned firm, which vehemently denied the allegations, is said to have been existing since 2006 and supplies anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, antibiotic products, and supplements nationwide. Its popularity has led the firm into earning profits ranging from P1 billion in 2016 to P5B in 2019.
Information reaching mass media would show a number of physicians from Northern Luzon are allegedly part of the group, and have received commissions of up to over P30M for a single individual.
Individuals trained and licensed to cure the sick and save lives are placed on a high pedestal for the importance of the profession. Handling matters of life and death is no easy task, reason why it takes years of undergraduate preparation and training before one can enter a field, which would again later require more years of specialization and expertise, as well as continuing medical education.
And so, we share the alarm expressed by the senator and some of his colleagues in the Senate who have earlier revealed profiteering activities among medical practitioners, which they say are a “violation of ethical standards of medical practices”.
While we see nothing wrong about doctors engaging in business activities, physicians being involved and focused on meeting quotas to make more profits out of medicines that they prescribe to their patients – and through a deplorable financial scheme at that – puts doubt on their sincerity in achieving the main objective of the practice of medicine of being of service to mankind.
We cannot deny that opportunities to gain profit may taint one’s judgment, especially when it promises beyond what we can earn through hard work. It is unacceptable, and as the senator puts it, it “hurts the credibility and integrity of the medical profession” and “undermines public trust in healthcare”.
Such medical practice also undermines government programs that push for affordable and safe medicines under the Universal Health Care, since these doctors are motivated more by incentives rather than helping save lives.
The worst thing that could happen is having a culture of unchecked prescribing and peddling of medicines that do not meet standards, with people authorized to do the same themselves putting their patients’ health at risk.
A deeper investigation of such practices, as proposed, is in order, and in the spirit of fairness, we would want to know the side of the concerned group of physicians. However, if found true, this must lead to a legislation that prohibits kickbacks in the pharmaceutical industry, and one that deals with unethical medical practices.
Medical practitioners, according to the Code of Ethics of the Medical Profession, are guided by the principles of respect for life, respect for person, and of social justice.
It also states the principle of beneficence, wherein the “interest of the patient shall be placed above those of the physician. Societal pressure, financial gains and administrative exigencies shall not compromise this principle.”
We believe this goes with the code’s primum non nocere, another principle which means that “the foremost priority of the physician is to do no harm to the patient” – the core of the Hippocratic Oath of physicians.
Above all, may we be reminded of 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”