Americans and their health insurers, including government ones like Medicare and Medicaid, save billions of dollars a year buying generic pharmaceuticals — drugs whose active ingredients are identical to those of their name-brand cousins but cost a lot less. The generic makers, insurers and most consumers want to keep it that way, while the name-brand makers would rather have the market for the drugs they develop all to themselves, and not just during their reasonable patent lives but forever. That’s how it’s been since generics came along about a quarter-century ago, and despite laws that have been passed to protect generics, the battle continues.
In the latest skirmish, reported in Tuesday’s New York Times, the name-brand makers have been refusing to sell the generic makers samples of their drugs so they can be properly analyzed and copied (doing so is perfectly legal as long as some inert ingredients are different). The name-brand makers are citing safety concerns — the same ones that caused the government to limit access to these drugs, making it harder for generic makers to obtain them — when it’s pretty clear what they’re really concerned with are their bottom lines.
Congress, which has twice in the last six years tried to address this issue but has bowed under lobbyists’ pressure, needs to get the job done once and for all. The profits of name-brand drug makers are plenty healthy, and sky-high drug prices are a big part of the reason why health insurance is so costly. The public needs unfettered access to quality generic medicine.