The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should swiftly use its existing statutory authority—including forcing drug patent owners to license their products to others—to lower drug prices, 100 Democratic members of Congress urged HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra late last month.
“High U.S. medicine prices are the result of prescription drug corporations using their monopoly power to hike prices and pad their bottom lines,” the group of senators and representatives said in a June 23 letter to Becerra released on June 28. “Meanwhile, U.S. law forbids direct government negotiations and other restrictions on pharmaceutical pricing.”
The lawmakers thanked Becerra and the Biden administration for asking Congress to pass laws to let Medicare to negotiate drug prices for high-priced, brand-name drugs and to prevent drug prices from rising faster than the rate of inflation. “But to provide the urgent relief that Americans demand, including patients who would not initially benefit from Medicare drug price negotiations, you must simultaneously use the executive tools readily at your disposal,” they said.
They asked Becerra to use government patent-use rights and compulsory patent-licensing authority under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 and Section 1498 of federal patent law to introduce generic or biosimilar competition for patented drugs and achieve dramatic price relief “in a matter of months.” The lawmakers requested a meeting with Becerra by July 15 to discuss the proposed actions.
The Democratic lawmakers said exercising the government’s compulsory licensing, march-in and royalty-free rights would enjoy wide popular support, with about 80% of voters favoring “breaking patent monopolies to reduce drug prices.” They noted that one in four Americans report being unable to afford their medicines, and that U.S. patients pay more than two and half times as much for prescription drugs as people in other countries.
“This is especially perverse and upsetting, given that U.S. taxpayers drive biomedical research through more than $40 billion in annual investments through the National Institutes of Health, the letter said.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Angus King (I-Maine) and Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) led the group of House and Senate members that signed the letter to Becerra.