House Democrats Seek To Force Floor Vote on Stalled Generic Drug Legislation
House Democrats plan to force a floor vote on generic drug legislation by launching a discharge petition, a "rarely used tactic," AP/Long Island Newsday reports. The bill (HR 5272) is companion legislation to a bill the Senate passed in July. Under House rules, any member can introduce a motion to relieve a standing committee of its responsibility for a bill if the legislation has been before the panel for thirty legislative days. To be successful, half of the House, or 218 representatives, must sign the petition (Carter, AP/Long Island Newsday, 9/18). The bill would give brand-name drug makers only one 30-month patent extension per product, closing loopholes in the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act that pharmaceutical companies have used to delay generic drug competition. The bill also would prevent brand-name drug companies from paying generic manufacturers to keep their products off the market and would allow generic drug companies to legally challenge "frivolous patents," including "superficial changes" in a treatment's color or physical design intended only to "stifle competition" (California Healthline, 7/31). The House bill was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July, but Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chair of the committee, has said that laws to increase access to generic drugs might not be necessary because "pharmacists are beginning to take a more active role" in convincing physicians to prescribe generic treatments (California Healthline, 9/6). To bypass Tauzin's committee and schedule a floor vote on the plan, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) will launch a discharge petition today (CQ Daily Monitor Midday Update, 9/17). Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the House bill's sponsor, said, "This Congress has failed to do anything about prescription drug prices" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 9/18).
The following highlights recent commentary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the stalled generics legislation and the debate over adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.
- Pharmaceutical companies have fought efforts to control rising drug costs for years, and although they have "a few good arguments on their side," some "aspects of the system are indefensible," according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial. To prevent reform, drug companies are "stepping up pressure on Congress" and utilizing tactics that are "unfair." For example, the pharmaceutical industry has told corporate executives affiliated with Business for Affordable Medicine that they would need to stop pushing Congress to pass the generics legislation in order to receive "lucrative" contracts for pharmaceutical products. The editorial predicts that the generics reform legislation "may not see the light of day in the House," noting that Tauzin is "sitting on the legislation" and is the second-largest recipient of drug industry PAC funds (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/18).
- The "root of the debate" over adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare is centered on two issues: cost and "whether private enterprise or government is the solution to the problem," John Young, the opinion editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Young criticizes the House for passing a plan with a gap in coverage, saying the House could have afforded "uniform prescription drug coverage" if it hadn't passed a $1.7 trillion tax cut. Still, he concludes, fiscal conservatives understand that prescription drugs can prevent catastrophic illnesses, they just "can't bring themselves to say that big, bad government is the vehicle for it" (Young, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/18).
This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.