Two-thirds of American adults take prescription drugs and 1 in 4 Americans struggle to pay for them. This isn’t surprising when you consider that on average, Americans pay two to three times as much as people in other countries for the same medicines. To get drug prices under control, we need to stop drug companies from manipulating the market.
Americans pay more for the same medications
Americans pay two to three times as much as people in other countries for the same medicines.
Big Pharma is driving up prices
Pharmaceutical companies do groundbreaking, lifesaving work. The U.S. drug patent system recognizes their time and investment in developing innovative medicines by awarding those companies with exclusive sales rights for a number of years. But these days, brand-name drug companies are engaging in schemes that drive up the prices for everyone.
According to allegations in court filings, many drug companies, like the ones that make the arthritic drug Humira and the Alzheimer’s drug Namenda, abuse the patent system to block generic drugs from entering the market.
Here’s one example, as described in filings in a court case: AbbVie, the maker of Humira, one of the world’s best-selling drugs, was granted a patent for 14 years of exclusive sales to recoup their investment and make a profit. But before their original patent could expire, they filed 130 new patents for changes in manufacturing or tweaks in the formula to what is essentially still the same drug. This “patent thicket” blocks generic versions of the drug from entering the market. Meanwhile, AbbVie has tripled the price of Humira since 2006; a one-year supply can now cost as much as $72,000. The same drug in Europe, where generics were allowed to enter the market, costs 80% less.
It’s time to put an end to patent thickets and other schemes that prevent lower-cost alternatives from entering the prescription drug market. Fortunately, federal regulators already have the authority and tools they need to investigate patent abuse and scrutinize new patent applications to ensure they’re only approving those for innovative changes in medicine. Taking these actions will help break down barriers that keep lower-cost drugs off pharmacy shelves, which could mean real savings for everyone. Introducing just one generic alternative can bring prices for that drug down by as much as 40%. Two generics can cut prices by more than half. That’s real savings.
The time for action is now
In July 2021, President Biden issued an executive order urging federal agencies to vigorously enforce antitrust laws. He specifically called for greater support for generic and biosimilar drugs in the marketplace as a way to provide low-cost options for the people who need them. The Department of Health and Human Services quickly responded with a plan to address high drug prices. Now we have to hold our decision-makers accountable for putting this plan into action.