Doctor-owned pharma hit for ‘unethical practices’

(PHILSTAR) MANILA, Philippines — A group of doctors who own a pharmaceutical company has been giving rebates of up to P2 million, luxury cars, travel and other perks to doctors who prescribe the firm’s medicines, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada disclosed yesterday.

In a privilege speech, Estrada called for a Senate probe, in aid of legislation, on the practices of Bell-Kenz Pharma, whose products range from anti-hypertensive and anti-diabetic drugs to antibiotics and health supplements. He said the firm has been operating since 2006.

Estrada said the company “shamelessly recruits doctors, enticing them with promises of exorbitant commissions and lavish incentives in exchange for prescribing their medicines – a blatant violation of their ethical principles, betrayal of trust bestowed upon them by their patients and a flagrant disregard for the sacredness of their profession.”

Bell-Kenz Pharma officers have yet to respond to Estrada’s accusations.

“It’s probably high time that we come up with legislation similar to the United States, the Anti-Kickback Statute, a criminal law that prohibits the knowing and willful payment of ‘remuneration’ to induce or reward patient referrals, or the generation of business involving any item or service payable by the Federal health care programs,” he noted.

Certain doctors have reportedly become “entangled in the web of a pharmaceutical company that shamelessly peddles its products through a deplorable multi-level marketing scheme,” Estrada said.

Bell-Kenz Pharma’s executives, doctors Luis Go, Berwyn Flores and James Cayetano, call themselves Jedis as they love the Star Wars media franchise, he noted.

“According to data from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the standing directors or officers are Luis Raymond Go as president, Alina Fatima M. Hojilla (vice president), Joseph Vincent Go (corporate secretary, a lawyer), Jaime Cayetano Jr. (treasurer) and 58 other stockholders who are all doctors from different parts of the country,” he said.

“To become a Jedi, they have to prescribe Bell-Kenz drugs, even supplements sold by the company, whether the patient needs them or not. Their ‘entry’ investment level is around P250,000 to P500,000,” he added.

Doctors’ productivity is regularly monitored by the Jedi and once they reach target productivity, they level up to Jedihood with benefits including eight percent rebates based on monthly productivity, which is usually around P2 million, Estrada said.

“On top of that is what they call the annual ‘Jedi star tour.’ Depending on whether the doctor hits his 3.5 percent productivity target, they can be given an Asian, European or US tour package. Cash or luxury items like their ‘dream car’ come from rebates. Rebates accumulated are convertible to cash, luxury cars, Rolex and more,” he said.

Bell-Kenz Pharma also has “second investors” called “Padawans,” also a Star Wars reference. They are entitled to receive dividends and rebates and earn milestone points.

“While it is not illegal for medical professionals to engage in business activities, it is highly unethical when a pharmaceutical company owned by doctors hires other doctors as agents and pays them commissions based on the prescriptions they give to patients,” Estrada maintained.

He said that since the Jedi “are re-recruited a lot, it is only natural that the company’s growth is also fast. From P1 billion in sales in 2016, it increased further and reached P3.2 billion in 2018 and P5 billion in 2019.”