Friday, May 19, 2017

Members of Congress actually do something right about outrageous drug prices. Maybe.

Perhaps this will wipe the smirk off drug gouger 
Martin Shkreli’s face. Or not.

If a bi-partisan amendment to a Congressional bill passes on the House floor, drug gouger Martin Shkreli will have less to smirk about.

The bill started out merely to reauthorize fees that the Food and Drug Administration charges to makers of pharmaceuticals and devices.

But then, Representatives Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, and Gus Billirakis, a Florida Republican, wrote an amendment to the bill, which would encourages drug manufacturers to compete against the gougers. The price gougers typically purchase a cheap drug whose patent has expired and then raise the price sky-high.

For example, Shkreli, the smirking poster boy for greed in the drug industry, obtained the manufacturing license for a drug called Daraprim and raised its price from about $23.50 per pill to $750 per pill.  The ability to purchase Daraprim, an anti-parasitic agent, can be a life-or-death matter for some patients.

And Shkreli’s not the only one. Among others high on the list of people not likely to be widely mourned if they were to get crushed by a wayward meteorite is Heather Bresch, who jacked up the price of the life-saving EpiPen by 700 percent. Needless to say, her bloodthirsty profiteering didn’t please mothers of allergic children likely to die of anaphylactic shock, an emergency condition that EpiPen treats. If you can afford it.

Schrader and Billirakis’ amendment, supported by lawmakers from both parties, encouraged manufacturers  to compete against drugs like Daraprim and EpiPen that are out of patent but made by only one supplier. The new competitors would get six months of exclusive rights to compete. The amendment additionally puts their product applications on a six months timeline for approval, and offers certain other benefits.

Theoretically, this ought to aid in the creation competition that will thwart the drug gougers. But only theoretically.

First, the trade publication Modern Healthcare is saying that “Some observers have questioned whether the legislation would have any effect.”

Further, the legislation with the attached amendment is a long way from getting passed. Despite the group of Congressmen finally acting in a bipartisan matter to benefit sick and vulnerable Americans, there’s no telling whether the entire House will go along. And second, even if the House passes the bill, there’s still the U.S. Senate to deal with.

Further, you can count on the Trump administration to try throwing a monkey wrench into the works. Modern Healthcare also reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price, a Trump appointee, now wants to “recalibrate” the fees that drug manufacturers pay for the FDA to examine and approve their medicines. That could lead to slowing down passage of the bill, and eliminating items like the Schrader-Billiarkis amendment.

You can almost be sure that the Shkrelis and Bresches of this world will fight to kill any bill that might keep them from stuffing their pocket with the money of the poor. And that might certainly include persuading Trump and Price to stomp on the bill, or its  competition-encouraging amendment. You know, competition is so….unAmerican.

All the same, we can hope.

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