The Grassley Drug Plan; A Rebuke of GOP Principles

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Grassley Drug Plan; A Rebuke of GOP Principles


Byline: Robert Goldberg, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The much-derided "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska was blown up before Thanksgiving. It had become, as the Wall Street Journal observed, "the poster child for Republican fiscal extravagance and the object of justified ridicule across the political spectrum." The bridge to nowhere is, however, a mere footpath compared to Sen. Chuck Grassley's highway of hubris: a back-alley abrogation of existing law that will protect a handful of drug companies from competition at a cost to consumers of about $5 billion over two years.

Mr. Grassley has always used a combination of whistle-blowing hearings and dead-of-night amendments to make his mark by himself. But now, Mr. Grassley's arrogance and impunity in shoving this scam down the throats of the American people shows that he's one reason why rank-and-file Republicans believe their party has veered from both principles and probity in their governance of the nation.

Mr. Grassley's particular peeve is that brand drug companies under a law designed to promote generic drug competition (the Hatch-Waxman Act) are doing just that - pricing their products to compete against a generic product once the brand's patent expires and a generic enters the market. Brand products at generic prices are commonly called "authorized generics." The Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission and a Federal Appeals Court have made it clear that Hatch-Waxman allows for this competition. As the court has noted, nothing prevents a brand company from marketing its product as a generic. Indeed, doing so is consistent with the objective of the Hatch-Waxman Act (the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act).

To prohibit a brand company from marketing its product as a generic drug would require a change in statute. Mr. Grassley asked the FTC to re-examine the impact of authorized generics on competition but apparently isn't interested in waiting for its report or relying on hearings to further vet the issue in the committees that have actual jurisdiction over generic drugs. His end run around Hatch-Waxman is an extended index finger to the agencies and courts that have ruled on the measure. It forces brand firms that launch or license generic versions of brand products to sell any remaining brand products on the market at the generic price to Medicaid and eventually Medicare. Historically, that's about 15 percent of a product's sales the first year or so after a generic hits the market. …

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