Prescription drug prices are rising across the country, leaving millions of patients struggling to afford life-saving medications. As the New York Times pointed out in a recent editorial, Americans have seen prices on their prescription rise four times faster than inflation in the last six months. One of the principal causes for this outrageous increase is the abuse of American’s patent system perpetuated by the big drug companies. Big Pharma manipulates the patent system to maintain their expansive drug monopolies and keep generic competition out of the marketplace.
American patients desperately need a solution that lowers the costs of the medicines they need. Fortunately, there is a bipartisan effort moving forward in Congress co-sponsored by Connecticut’s U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal that would take important steps towards addressing this growing problem. The bipartisan Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act, that Sen. Blumenthal introduced with Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now awaits action by the full Senate.
This legislation would address the some of the tricks the big drug companies use to exploit loopholes in the U.S. patent process and extend indefinite monopolies on their medications. By gaming the patent system to their advantage, these companies can drive out competition. This anticompetitive behavior keeps drug prices soaring, leaving millions of patients struggling to afford the medicine they need to live.
For example, the pharmaceutical company AbbVie, maker of Humira, is known for its rampant and blatant use of a tactic called “patent thicketing” to maintain its drug monopolies. A patent thicket is when a company applies for as many patents as it can on a single drug to keep its monopoly on the market. In the case of Humira, AbbVie holds approximately 136 patents, which have so far prevented any generic alternatives from entering the market. This doesn’t need to happen, other countries now have access to affordable generic alternatives to Humira.
AbbVie isn’t the only drug company that uses this tactic. Exploiting the patent system is a popular approach for Big Pharma, and it is certainly not a new one. Drug companies have been manipulating the U.S. patent system for decades to delay or prevent generic medicines from coming to the market.
That Big Pharma would go so far to stifle competitors is why The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act is such a critical step. Big Pharma pulls in huge unearned in profits each year from keeping competition out of their markets. AbbVie earns $50.4 million per day on Humira. Introducing reforms to the patent system will help to introduce generic medications into the market sooner.
Studies show that the availability of generic alternatives dramatically reduces drug costs. The FDA has also indicated that generics reduce prices, on average, to just 20 percent of Big Pharma’s sticker price. Generic alternatives have saved American consumers a total of $265 billion in 2017.
Reforming the patent system is a critical step in stopping drug companies from exploiting loopholes on the backs of American citizens. When they engage in anticompetitive behavior, they hurt everyone. No matter if you’re sick or healthy, higher drug prices result in higher premiums. In fact, at 23.3 percent, prescription drug costs make up the most significant percentage of health insurance premiums.
Today, Americans pay more than citizens of other high-income countries for the same prescription drugs. Big Pharma’s manipulation of the patent system is largely responsible for this massive discrepancy in pricing. By reforming the patent system, we can eliminate a major contributing factor to the pricing problem facing American patients. Without addressing Big Pharma’s patent abuse, Americans will continue to struggle to afford their vital medications.
Closing patent loopholes is a common-sense, market-based approach that will help curb the prescription drug crisis affecting so many Americans. Thanks to the bipartisan leadership of Senators Blumenthal and Cornyn, there is a unique opportunity to reign in Big Pharma’s patent abuse and expand access to life-saving medicines for patients across the nation.
Matthew Lane is the Executive Director of the Coalition Against Patent Abuse