Lawmakers Weigh Measure to Fight High Drug Prices

Lawmakers are considering adding a measure aimed at fighting high drug prices to an upcoming spending deal, in what would be a rare defeat for the powerful pharmaceutical industry.

The measure, known as the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act, is intended to prevent branded drug companies from using tactics to delay competition from cheaper generic drugs. It is co-sponsored by a set of unusual bedfellows in both parties.

The bill therefore could be a rare instance in which Congress acts against high drug prices, something the public rates as a top priority in polls.

Pharmaceutical companies are pushing back and lobbying against the measure, arguing it would harm patient safety and open companies up to wasteful lawsuits.

But they might not be successful in their effort. Lobbyists and congressional sources say the measure could be added to a long-term government funding bill as a way to help pay for higher budget caps. The measure is estimated to save more than $3 billion.

“They’re probably having a tougher time pushing back on this one,” a GOP health-care lobbyist said of the drug companies.

A Senate GOP aide said the measure looks likely to pass. “This has been talked about and it looks probable at this point,” the aide said.

The bill is designed to crack down on branded drug companies delaying the introduction of cheaper generic competitors by refusing to provide samples of the product needed to perform testing.

The measure would crack down on an “egregious abuse” of the system by pharmaceutical companies, said Ben Wakana, executive director of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs.

“Yes, we’re concerned that drug corporations spend millions lobbying to protect their monopoly power, but I remain hopeful that the voices of thousands of patients speaking out will offset big pharma’s lobbying and finally help lower drug prices,” he added.

Andrew Powaleny, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the group opposes the bill because it “could threaten patient safety.”

The measure would allow a generic company to develop its own safety protocol for a drug rather than have to develop a shared protocol with the branded company. Supporters of the bill say there would still be rigorous standards in place to ensure safety.

The bill would also allow generic drug makers to sue to obtain the samples they need. Powaleny warned the bill would lead to “wasteful litigation between companies.”

Co-sponsors include a diverse group of lawmakers such as Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Klobuchar, asked if leadership is open to the bill, responded: “I would hope so. They better be, because the public’s getting pretty pissed about drug prices.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), whose panel oversees drug pricing issues, left the door open for the bill being used in the lower chamber as an offset to increased spending caps.

Asked if it or another drug pricing measure could be part of such a deal, Walden said: “There could be.”

“I mean, caps are caps and you’ve got to figure out how to pay for [raising them],” he added. “Those issues have not been resolved yet.”

Michael Brzica, vice president of federal government affairs for the Association for Accessible Medicines, which represents generic drug companies and supports the bill, said that polling is helping build support among lawmakers.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last year found that 64 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans say that lowering prescription drug prices is a top priority.

“I think both parties are giving this a good hard look,” Brzica said. “We’re very confident that this is on the table.”

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