A bill from Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) has the potential to start a new national conversation about the federal government’s relationship to intellectual property, monopoly power, and human needs. The bill, HR 6505, would allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to secure reasonable prices for medications—and, if pharmaceutical companies refuse, the bill permits the government to suspend exclusivity for drug patents and authorize other companies to offer generic competition.
The measure has already picked up more than 80 co-sponsors, including Representatives Keith Ellison, Raul Grijalva, John Garamendi, and Jan Schakowsky, and is backed by a broad coalition of progressive organizations. Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) helped craft the bill, according to Doggett staffers.
Drug prices in the United States are nearly twice what they are in the rest of the world; the 20 top-selling drugs cost three times more in the United States than they do in Great Britain. This is in large part because of the exclusive patents given to drug companies for medicines often developed through publicly funded research. In other words, drug companies are shielded from competition, and so are able to charge US citizens high prices for the intellectual property their tax dollars helped to create. (A Project HOPE study found that government funding played an indirect role—”for example, by funding basic underlying research”—for almost half of the drugs approved between 1988 and 2005.) Lobbying efforts have so far dissuaded elected officials from regulating drug prices, or even from allowing Medicare—which pays for nearly a third of all prescription drugs in the United States—to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.
Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to cut “ripoff drug prices.” Yet so far his administration has enacted no major policy to do so. In contrast, Doggett’s bill could mark a significant advance in the fight to bring down drug prices. It requires the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate Medicare drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations. If a pricing agreement is not reached, the bill instructs the secretary to override the license holder’s exclusivity and give other companies the right to manufacture and sell the same drug, after paying royalties to the patent holder.