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AARP Backing Senate Effort to Increase Prescription Drug Competition

Bills would crack down on big drug company schemes to delay generics

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Jessica Intermill has chronic rheumatoid arthritis, a painful disease that the Minneapolis small-business owner says she can only control with a medication costing her $4,400 a month even with insurance. Kathy Anderson is retired and lives in LeClaire, Iowa. When she joined Medicare, the cost of a prescription drug she needs to control her severe eye disease went from $45 to $377 for a one-month supply.

Both of these women spoke Feb. 16 at a virtual news conference Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) held to call attention to two bills they are authoring that would make it more difficult for big drug companies to keep lower-cost generic versions of brand name medications from coming to market. 

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One measure would crack down on so-called “pay-for-delay” agreements where brand-name drug companies pay generic and biosimilar manufacturers not to bring a competing — and less expensive — version of their medication to market. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these agreements cost American consumers billions of dollars per year and delay the availability of generic and biosimilar drugs for more than a year on average.

A second measure is designed to stop brand-name drugmakers from filing baseless citizen petitions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that raise invalid concerns about a generic or biosimilar medication seeking FDA approval. This bill would authorize the FTC to sue whoever submits a petition found to be a sham and anticompetitive.

The Preserving Access to Affordable Generics and Biosimilars Act of 2023, which would limit pay-for-delay deals, and the Stop Significant and Time-wasting Abuse Limiting Legitimate Innovation of New Generics  (Stop STALLING) Act, which would prevent brand-name drug companies from abusing the citizen petition process, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 9.

“We know that big drug companies often game the system to prevent less expensive generic and biosimilar drugs from entering the market,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, said at the press conference. “It’s wrong and it needs to stop. And this is why I’m pleased that are we standing with Senators Grassley and Klobuchar today in support of their bipartisan common sense bills that will restore fundamental market principles and give consumers real choices and lower prices.”

In a Feb. 16 letter to Senate leaders AARP urged them to pass the two bills without delay.

Patients call on Senate to act

Intermill, who is an AARP volunteer, said although the patent on the medication she takes to deal with her arthritis expired in 2015, the drug manufacturer’s list price is $8,000 per month and even with insurance she pays $4,400 for a 30-day supply. 

“I have to pay the drug companies ransom,” Intermill said. “I have no choice. But our Congress has a choice. It can choose to stop putting international drug companies’ profits over people.” 

Anderson said that while she had employer-based insurance, one of the drugs she takes for a severe eye problem cost her $45 a month. But under her Medicare plan the prescription cost rose to $377. Only after she confronted two drug company representatives in her doctor’s office did her provider suggest a medication that would cost her less. And the FDA in 2022 did approve a generic version of the drug.

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“This topic of drug costs became a driving interest for me,” said Anderson, who told the senators that “what you’re doing is so critical to making access to affordable medications available to us, so important to our quality of life.” 

Both of these bills were passed out of committee in the previous Congress but did not get a vote on the Senate floor. Both Grassley and Klobuchar said they hope that getting committees’ votes on them early in the 118th Congress would help get the measures enacted. Klobuchar said she expects similar legislation to be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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