Humira, a patent prescribed drug with no generic options, costs over $38,000 per year. Why? The lack of regulation of drug prices, forbidding Medicare from negotiating lower prices, and abuse of the U.S. patent system. This is appalling; there is no reason why this drug should be so expensive, to the point where ordinary people cannot afford it.
We have previously written about how patent thickets block access to more affordable generic drugs, especially in Humira's case. The Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge found in a recently released report that 247 patents have been filed on Humira, and many of them have been filed in the last few years. Richard Gonzalez, CEO of the drug's maker AbbVie, has defiantly said "any company seeking to market a biosimilar version of Humira will have to contend with this extensive patent estate, which AbbVie intends to enforce vigorously." The drug manufacturer isn't even trying to pretend that the patents have a legitimate use; they are just to discourage other companies and preserve a monopoly that enables them to charge whatever they want.
AbbVie is not alone. The Initiative also found that for each of the 12 highest grossing drugs in the United States, there are an average of 125 patent applications filed and 71 patents granted. And in a lot of cases the patents are for minor changes that don't promote innovation or lead to new discoveries in medicine. So many patents discourage generic drugs and prolong brand monopolies. All Americans suffer from this situation, but seniors are particularly impacted, because they have to take the drugs, are often retired and living on their savings and Social Security, and frequently don't have much additional income. A recent survey found that nearly half of consumers have abandoned a medication prescribed by physicians because it was too expensive.
It also costs federal and state governments a lot of money. In the past few years, drug prices have risen so much to the point that they have put significant strain on state budgets, and states are looking for ways to reduce costs. If Medicare could negotiate lower drug prices, it wouldn't have to pay outrageous sums and could direct that money to other areas that would help people instead of price-gouging companies.
Competition works. And a way to reduce drug prices and promote a better market over the long term is to end this abuse of the patent system. After the November elections, Congress will take up a variety of matters, and we hope reforming patent abuse will be one of them.