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Pharmaceuticals

Resisting Health Care Reform

Drugmakers find fault with overhaul plan

by Glenn Hess
August 10, 2009 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 87, ISSUE 32

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Credit: Molly Riley/Reuters/Newscom
House Energy & Commerce Committee members iron out health care reform legislation.
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Credit: Molly Riley/Reuters/Newscom
House Energy & Commerce Committee members iron out health care reform legislation.

Legislation moving through the House of Representatives that would overhaul the $2.5 trillion health care system would hurt patients and kill jobs, the drug industry charged last week.

The drug industry “remains committed to working with the Administration and Congress to help enact comprehensive health care reform this year,” says Ken Johnson of the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade group that lobbies on behalf of brand-name drug companies.

“Unfortunately, the totality of the efforts in the House, while well intentioned, represents a step in the wrong direction in the health care reform debate,” Johnson adds.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee narrowly approved legislation (H.R. 3200) on July 31 that is designed to provide health care to 50 million uninsured Americans. But PhRMA contends that the bill would severely restrict patient access and choice and would damage the drug industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of workers.

One key provision added to the legislation by Rep. Peter F. Welch (D-Vt.) would require the Department of Health & Human Services to negotiate directly with manufacturers for lower prices in the popular Medicare prescription drug program.

Drug companies and the private insurers that administer the program argue that they already provide large discounts for millions of Medicare beneficiaries and that forced negotiations would lead to government price controls.

The committee also approved an amendment by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) to prohibit brand-name drug companies from settling patent disputes by paying generics firms to delay the introduction of their cheaper products (C&EN, June 15, page 21).

“By imposing an outright ban on settlements, the amendment has the unintended effect of benefiting the brand industry and ultimately harming consumers by keeping more affordable generics from getting to the market in a timely manner,” says Kathleen Jaeger, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association. That’s because settlements still allow generics manufacturers to introduce cheaper drugs before the patents expire on their brand counterparts.

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