David Mitchell and Greg Strimple
Partisan warfare in Washington never seems to stop. Yet, in poll after poll, Americans want lawmakers to work across the aisle and get things done.
The two of us — a professional political strategist and a cancer patient — suggest a bipartisan win for Washington and all Americans. It is right in front of us. Here’s what it looks like.
The majority of Americans want elected officials to take action to lower prescription drug prices.
Almost 90 percent of Americans support legislation to speed generics to market. Why? Generics competing with brands drive down prices. Generics are cheaper and people get that.
There are three serious bipartisan initiatives to speed generics to market. Bipartisan — did we say that? Yes. Let us explain.
The first bill — sponsored by Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Florida Republicana, and Kurt Schrader, Oregon Democrat — provides incentives for development of new generics where there is currently no competition, and speeds up Food and Drug Administration approval times. It is modest but could get more inexpensive generics to market where there are none.
The second bill — sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Amy Klobuchar Minnesota Democrat — would put a stop to “pay-for-delay” scams. This occurs when a brand manufacturer pays a generic company not to bring a drug to market. It’s remarkable this is legal to begin with, and Congress should stop it now.
The third legislative proposal is sponsored by a bipartisan lineup of Sens. Pat Leahy, Vermont Democrat, Mr. Grassley, Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, Ms. Klobuchar, and Mike Lee, Utah Republican, along with Reps. Peter Welch, Vermon Democrat, and Steve Stivers, Ohio Republican. It would crack down on abuses of the patent laws employed by drug companies to avoid giving samples of brand-name drugs to other manufacturers to create a generic. These practices by drug corporations subvert the law and the intent of Congress. Surely we can fix this.
Together, these three bipartisan bills could make a meaningful contribution to lowering drug prices in the United States. Why not go for the low-hanging fruit? Congress could do it in regular order with hearings and everything. Based on what President Trump has said, he’ll sign it. People will be helped. America will stand up and applaud.
But what about the drug corporations? Well, they won’t like this. Bringing generics to customers sooner could be a first step in major reforms to restore market principles and help patients, consumers and taxpayers.
But can’t we hold Big Pharma to the fundamental bargain that was struck in 1984 called the Hatch-Waxman Act? The deal was that drug companies received monopoly pricing power for five to seven years. After that time, generics would be introduced to create competition and drive down prices. All this legislation does is make the drug companies abide by the intent and letter of the law.
Americans need help. Here are voices from among the thousands of stories we collected at Patients For Affordable Drugs from every state in the nation:
Sheila from Church Hill, Tenn.: “I am a disabled widow and my drugs cost over $800 per month out of pocket. So of course, I’m doing without medicines I really should be taking.”
Patricia from Long Branch, N.J.: “I have had chronic myelogenous leukemia for seven years. The cost without insurance is about $9,000 a month.”
Milly from Klamath Falls, Ore: “My meds cost over $1,000 a month, but I only get $900 a month and $180 goes toward my Medicare premiums. It’s so hard to live on the rest.”
Millions of Americans are being hurt to finance exorbitant compensation and sky-high profits of the drug companies. These companies won’t be crippled by action on generics. They’ll simply be forced to act according to law, and they’ll still make a great deal of money.
This seems so clear — so simple. No gridlock. No stalemate. Just common-sense, bipartisan action to make the laws of our country work for people. The time for action is now.
• David Mitchell is a cancer patient and the founder and president of Patients For Affordable Drugs. Greg Strimple is the founder of GS Strategy Group.