Guest Column

A Crucial Step Toward Curbing Patent Abuse

Rapidly rising prescription drug prices are a principal driver of the rising health care costs that have been a challenge for so many Montanans

By Mike Yakawich

The pharmaceutical industry is renowned for its breakthrough therapies that have saved countless lives. Yet, the reality is taxpayers subsidize most research and development investments in new medicines—and Big Pharma companies are increasingly focusing their strategic know-how on gaming the patent system to maintain monopolies and keep prices high, all at the expense of patients. 

Rapidly rising prescription drug prices are a principal driver of the rising health care costs that have been a challenge for so many Montanans. Spending on prescription drugs has increased by nearly 50 percent over the last decade, and without a meaningful policy change, that trajectory will continue on into the future as Big Pharma innovates new ways to game the system to keep prices high.

As I have met and talked with many constituents, friends and neighbors, there is a clarion call for reduction on prescription drug costs. I am especially concerned how those in the middle are crushed by the rising costs when their premium or co-pays are high or even no health insurance as they are making too much to qualify for breaks. In Billings, this is where I have found a great concern.

This is one critical area where we need policymakers to come together to enact commonsense reform. Fortunately, in Congress momentum is building behind one bipartisan solution that would begin tackling this urgent challenge head-on: curbing Big Pharma’s patent abuse. The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act, or Cornyn-Blumenthal, targets some of the pharmaceutical industry’s most egregious abuses of the patent system.

Some pharmaceutical companies engage in “evergreening” — a strategy where minor changes are made to a drug, securing a new patent, and effectively extending the monopoly drug companies have beyond the original patent’s expiration. Another tactic is “patent thicketing,” where a company surrounds a drug with a web of patents, making it nearly impossible for competitors to enter the market with generic versions. Both these practices lead to extended monopolies, keeping drug prices high and inaccessible to many patients.

Recognizing the urgent need to address this problem, Cornyn-Blumenthal targets these specific abuses. By implementing stricter oversight over drug patent submissions and empowering the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to challenge questionable patents, this bipartisan, market-based solution seeks to ensure that patents are awarded for genuine innovation, not anti-competitive maneuvers designed to keep competitors out of the market long after a reasonable period of exclusivity.

Furthermore, Cornyn-Blumenthal promotes transparency, requiring pharmaceutical companies to provide detailed reasons for their patent applications. This will not only deter frivolous patents but also shine a light on the rationale behind patent decisions, offering a clearer picture of the balance between innovation and access.

It’s essential to understand Cornyn-Blumenthal doesn’t undermine incentives for actual innovation in the patent system. True innovation — the kind that brings about game-changing therapies — will always deserve protection. This legislation seeks to differentiate between genuine advancements and tactical gamesmanship designed to extend monopolies and boost profits at the expense of patients.

Many constituents are grateful for the prescription drugs that help heal. It is their hope to find a good balance on costs as well. Billings like other cities urban and rural seek fair and honest prices for their medication. From blood thinners to insulin, fighting for good health requires the opportunity to afford it as well.

Passage of Cornyn-Blumenthal would represent a significant step towards ensuring that the scales are balanced between rewarding genuine innovation and preventing anti-competitive gaming of the patent system and undue monopolies. It’s a reminder that while we must always strive for medical advancement, we must also protect market forces in health care that foster competition and help make medicines more affordable for American patients.

Republican Rep. Mike Yakawich represents House District 51 in Billings. He serves on the House Human Services Committee.

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