Guest Column

Lowering Prescription Drug Prices Starts with Addressing Patent Abuse

The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act is a vital piece of legislation that addresses the urgent need for affordable healthcare and accessible prescription drugs

By Cary Smith

One of the most pressing issues facing healthcare today is skyrocketing prescription drug prices. Prescription drug expenditures already account for about one-fifth of all healthcare costs nationally, and that figure is projected to go up in the coming years. It’s a crisis coming to a head with one in four Americans unable to afford their medication.

We know what is driving these rapid cost increases, and a significant part of the problem is attributed to abusive tactics developed by Big Pharma to unreasonably extend monopoly pricing on certain drugs. It’s time for Congress to act to stop this abuse from happening.

The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act, co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), is a crucial step in the right direction. By implementing meaningful reforms that would tackle Big Pharma’s patent abuse, this bill promises to alleviate the financial burden on patients, enhance affordability, and ultimately improve the overall well-being of individuals and families across the nation.

The primary objective of this bill is to reduce the exorbitant costs of prescription medications. High drug prices have long been a significant barrier to accessing necessary treatments, forcing individuals to choose between their health and financial stability. This bill aims to change this by promoting fair pricing practices, encouraging competition, and cracking down on the pharmaceutical industry’s abusive tactics that delay more affordable products from coming to market.

The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act recognizes the vital role played by generic and biosimilar drugs in driving down costs and increasing access to affordable medications. Through various provisions, the bill incentivizes the development and entry of generic and biosimilar alternatives to brand-name drugs. This competition will stimulate market dynamics that foster affordability and choice, allowing patients to select lower-cost alternatives without compromising on quality or effectiveness. Expediting the approval process for generics and biosimilars will promote market competition, resulting in reduced prices and increased availability of medications.

Critically, this bill will crack down on an abusive tactic frequently employed by pharmaceutical drug manufacturers called “product hopping.” Product hopping is a tactic that entails a drug manufacturer switching patients from one version of a drug that is facing expiring patents, to a newer version of that drug that is set to enjoy a longer period of patent protection. This tactic enables Big Pharma to protect its profits for longer, and prevents patients from accessing lower-cost alternatives such as generics and biologics. 

Patent abuse by the pharmaceutical industry is pervasive. Of the 100 best selling drugs in the United States, almost 80 percent have had their patent protection extended at least once to block generic competition. One analysis estimates the cost of patent abuse at an additional $40 billion annually. The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act would set reasonable limitations on patents and prevent some of Big Pharma’s most egregious tactics in this space.

The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act is a vital piece of legislation that addresses the urgent need for affordable healthcare and accessible prescription drugs. By cracking down on Big Pharma’s patent abuse and promoting generic and biosimilar competition, this bill lays the groundwork for a more equitable healthcare system. The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act will relieve the burden on patients, enabling them to access the medications they need without sacrificing their financial security. As a society, we must prioritize affordable healthcare, and this bill represents a significant step towards achieving this goal.

Cary Smith, a Republican from Billings, served in the Montana Legislature from 2009 to 2020.

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