Congressional Corner: Lowering the Price of Prescription Drugs

Congressional Corner: Lowering the Price of Prescription Drugs

By U.S. Senator David Vitter (LA)

Over the last several years, we've seen huge increases in the price of prescription drugs, and drug companies are finding loopholes in the system to keep their money rolling in at the expense of the consumer.

This is due to the practice of anti-competitive "pay-for-delay" deals, where brand-name drug manufacturers pay off, or "settle," with a generic manufacturer to delay the generic drug to the market for years into the future.  Simply put, affordable generic drugs are kept away from consumers longer, ensuring that the big drug company's more expensive drug is the only option.  This allows for a brand-name drug monopoly, which thwarts competition and contributes to those price increases on our medicines.

Obviously drugmakers front significant costs researching and developing new, effective medications.  So allowing them enough time to sell their innovative prescription drugs, recoup investment costs and make a profit is fair -- it's a business after all. Congress passed legislation designed to allow this, but also encourage cheaper generic drugs to enter the market.  However, "pay-for-delay" deals are abusing the intent of this law, keeping cheaper generic drugs away from consumers longer by effectively blocking patent challenges.

While "pay-for-delay" deals create obvious challenges for seniors and their families, it's unfortunately becoming the norm.  It's a win-win for brand-name drug companies and generic manufacturers, but it comes at the expense of patients – often times seniors.

That is why I decided to address this problem by introducing the bipartisan FAIR Generics Act with Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) that would stop these abusive deals from keeping generics off the market longer than they should.  Our plan is about ensuring true market competition and providing real savings to seniors and taxpayers. It would help seniors by allowing generic drug makers to make high-quality, lower-priced prescription medications available sooner.  That will bring the price down.  In a preliminary analysis, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected that our bill would not only bring generics to market faster, but it is also expected to save consumers and the federal government billions of dollars.  That will obviously help the taxpayers.

Not only would our plan benefit patients, families and taxpayers, it poses a real threat to the big pharmaceutical industry special interests.  I believe it's time to stand up to PhRMA's attempts to control the drug market and fight for what's right for consumers – increasing access to cheaper generic drugs.

With tightening wallets and slimmer budgets in our current economy, greater access to quality, cheaper generic prescription drugs would provide real relief for many seniors and their families.  Our plan provides a common-sense solution.  With bipartisan agreement, I'm hopeful we can push this important reform in Congress.