Congress to Investigate Rising Generic Drug Costs
If you are going to a pharmacy for a particular drug, you’re often offered a choice — do you want the name brand or the cheaper generic? Generics have long been lauded for their ability to provide the same benefits to patients while also offering a less hefty price tag; however, recently generics have been getting more expensive, and people are wondering why. Congress announced this week that it’s going to launch an investigation into why the price of generic drugs is rising.
When a drug company develops a particular drug, it gets to hold the patent for approximately twenty years (some nations or jurisdictions give protections for a bit longer). During that period, that company is the only one that can produce that particular drug. After the patent expires, however, other companies can make a “generic” version of the drug.
There are certain regulations created by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure that the generic drugs are able to be distributed. The FDA requires that a generic drug has the same active ingredients as the one that it is imitating, but not necessarily the same inactive ingredients (such as coloring). A generic has to perform the same function as the name brand, and it must of course meet the same health and safety standards.
Generic drugs tend to be less expensive than the name brands — and given the high cost of American health care, offer great and affordable options for consumers. However, it seems like the cost of these drugs is increasing. For example, the patent for Ambien, a popular sleep aid, recently expired. Now it’s a lot easier to get a generic version of Ambien for a cheaper price, and more people are able to get the product they need.
A study completed in August discovered that some generic prices have been dropping, while others have been rising almost exponentially. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The prices paid by pharmacies more than doubled for one out of 11 generics. And in a few cases – notably, the tetracycline antibiotic and the captopril blood pressure pill – the cost increases not only exceeded 1,000%, but topped 17,000%…. Yes, 17,000%.
Doctors have reported how troubling this kind of price increase can be in certain generic drugs for the patients who rely on them. Some patients who are on fixed incomes, such as those on Medicaid, may not be able to pay for the non-covered costs of the drugs if prices skyrocket that much. They may try to skip their prescriptions in an attempt to make ends meet. Not only is this obviously problematic for the patients themselves, but it also leads to more emergency room visits and a less healthy society in general.
That brings us to the investigation that Congress is evidently undertaking to try to figure out why exactly these generic prices are climbing so sharply and how to reverse the trend. The analysis is being pushed by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland. We can all say a lot about the inadequacies of Congress, but this is a good move on its part. It’s really important that we get the prices of generics under control, because price increases like this are almost always passed directly to the consumer. With as many healthcare problems as we have, this is an issue that needs to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible.
Anneliese Mahoney (@AMahoney8672) is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.