Senate Judiciary Committee Will Markup Drug Pricing Bills This Month

June 13, 2019

 The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning a markup of legislation to lower prescription drug prices later this month. In an interview with the Hill, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) confirmed this and said that bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee could be combined with bills from other committees to go to the Senate floor for a vote. 

 

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Committee's ranking member, are working together on their own bipartisan package to lower drug prices.

 

Graham also said that the legislation will include a bill sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to crack down on drug companies that game the patent system to extend their monopolies. This proposal, known as the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act, would codify definitions of product hopping (when drug companies make new, slightly different versions of their drugs to prolong their monopolies and get around generic substitution laws) and patent thicketing (when drug companies deploy multiple patents strategically in order to prevent competition and extend market exclusivity).

 

These abuses result in significantly higher drug prices. The Blumenthal-Cornyn bill will empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to challenge them as anticompetitive and enable the FTC to bring antitrust suits against companies who attempt to capitalize on this abuse of the system. Senator Cornyn said that while drug companies oppose this bill, "We ought to bring the prices down and trying to keep people from gaming the patent system is one way, I think, to do it."

 

Organizations and coalitions such as the Coalition Against Patent Abuse have been drawing attention to this abuse that leads to higher drug prices, and their efforts are bearing fruit. Multiple bills have been introduced in the House and Senate, but this is one of the most promising efforts so far.

 

Product hopping and patent thicketing are abuses that stifle competition, harm free and fair markets, and discourage innovation. Congress should swiftly enact this bill to outlaw this behavior, and the FTC should take a bold stance in order to stop it once and for all.

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