Senators Say Compromise on Generic Drug Access Legislation Could ‘Save Billions’
As expected, a bipartisan group of senators yesterday announced a compromise plan they said "could save billions of dollars" by allowing lower-cost, generic versions of prescription drugs to reach the market more quickly, the AP/Orlando Sentinel reports (Abrams, AP/Orlando Sentinel, 6/6). The plan -- supported by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) -- would close a loophole that allows brand-name drug makers to delay market entry of generic versions of their drugs for 30 months each time the brand-name companies sue for patent infringement. Instead, under the compromise, brand-name companies could delay marketing for only one 30-month stay in such cases. The compromise removes a provision included in a bill (SB 812) that passed 78-21 in the Senate last year. Last year's bill -- sponsored by Schumer and McCain -- would have allowed generic drug companies to legally challenge frivolous patents, including changes in a treatment's color or physical design, intended only to block competitors' products. Instead, the compromise measure would allow generic companies to try to remove patents by filing a counterclaim against a brand-name drug company. The counterclaim could be filed after a brand-name drug maker sued a generic drug company for patent infringement. The elimination of the right-to-sue provision gained the backing of Gregg, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who last year opposed the bill (California Healthline, 6/5).
Schumer and Gregg yesterday said that the legislation would save consumers and the government about $60 billion over 10 years; the federal government would receive about 10% of those savings, according to the AP/Sentinel. Schumer said the bill is a "market-based approach that doesn't cost the government a penny and gives the drug industry a desperately needed dose of competition." Gregg said the Bush administration "feels fairly positive" about the plan. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spokesperson Bruce Lott said, "We believe that the current law works well for patients, but we are reviewing Chairman Gregg's proposal." Gregg said the legislation could be considered on its own or be combined into broader legislation to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare (AP/Orlando Sentinel, 6/6). NPR's "NPR News" today reported on the compromise (Rovner, "NPR News," NPR, 6/6). The full segment is available in RealPlayer online.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.