Senior Spotlight By John Toscano
Legislation to ban agreements between drug manufacturing companies that block production of lower-cost generic drugs will be introduced by United States Senators Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Charles Grassley, an influential Republican from Iowa.
In making the announcement recently, Schumer declared: "These deals between big drug companies and small generic competitors are a financial boom for everyone but the consumer."
Usually, major drug companies and small firms that manufacture cheaper generics that are copies of expensive brand name drugs, are continually squabbling over bringing more generics onto the market. The major manufacturers lose money because many people use less expensive generic drugs. Senior citizens on small, fixed incomes generally use all generic drugs because they cannot afford the brand names.
Manufacturers of the generic drugs often sue the major drug makers for the right to make a generic out of a patented brand name drug. If the generic company has a strong case, the major drug company will frequently offer the smaller rival company a monetary incentive to discourage the smaller company's pursuing the suit.
The Federal Trade Commission (FDA) had ruled these deals were illegal, but in a case last year, a Georgia court threw out the FDA ruling and cleared the way for the agreements to continue.
Recently the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule on the Georgia case, so that state's ruling stands.
Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, blasted the agreements between drug companies in announcing his and Schumer's new legislation.
The lawmaker declared: "Sweetheart deals that delay the entry of low-cost drugs in the marketplace not only hurt consumers, they also threaten the sustainability of federal healthcare programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid."
DRUG DISCLOSURE BILL DIES: Another effort to lower drug costs for seniors died in the state legislature as the recent session ended.
The Assembly had passed a bill to require any drug manufacturing company that gave a doctor a gift worth more than $75, to report the gift to a state agency, which would then make the information public.
Sponsors of the bill had said that gifts by drug companies, such as expensive trips to conferences, influence doctors to prescribe high-cost drugs instead of generics, among other things.
Among the supporters of the Assembly bill was the senior advocacy organization AARP. The AARP and other groups like it said drug companies spend huge sums of money on promotional and lobbying activities which are then partially recouped by keeping prices for drugs high at times making it difficult for seniors to afford life-saving drugs.
However, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the lobbying organization for major drug manufacturers, opposed the Assembly bill and fought it strenuously. Despite the pressure, the Assembly passed it.
The Senate had also been expected to pass the measure. But when the bill was to come before that body late in the session, a rival bill was introduced and there was no time for either disclosure bill to be acted on.
Commenting on the failure to get the Assembly bill enacted by the senate, Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a consumer advocacy group, said, "The drug lobbies won round 1."