Big Pharma is at it again, determined to suck every last dollar it can from the system. This time, it’s about generics. Although the legislation Big Pharma is attempting to buy from its pet legislators in CON-gress won’t completely stop generics from coming onto the prescription drug market, it will greatly delay the process. And in the meantime, it will cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars over ten years.  

The bone of contention is a process known as inter partes review (IPR). It was intended to provide a faster, less expensive alternative to litigation when challenging a patent. Instead of a courtroom, the procedure takes place before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the US Patent and Trademark Office. IPRs help less expensive generic versions of prescription drugs to be brought to the market in a shorter time period. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) wants Congress to make an exception for drug patents, so they cannot be challenged through this process. If such an exemption was to be signed into law, it could delay the introduction of generic versions of expensive prescription drugs for years, or even decades.  According to a recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, such delays could wind up costing federal programs such as Medicare as much as $1.3 billion.

The prospect of such a cost has drawn stiff opposition from the insurance industry, consumer advocates – and surprisingly, a few legislators. However, nearly 80 members of the House of Representatives are calling for the exemption.  And of course, representatives of Big Pharma are raising the same objection. An intellectual property attorney for Biogen told the Wall Street Journal, “I understand people being concerned about drug prices, but we won’t have any new drugs come along at all if we don’t support the investment that’s needed to make them happen.”  On the other hand, an executive at America’s Health Insurance Plans says that the IPR procedure is a “critical consumer protection,” adding that “An exemption would be really bad for consumers and…the system.” Another executive at a drug company specializing in generics points out that use of the IPR system “would allow more access to affordable medicines.”

One thing is certain – if Big Pharma wants it, and its corporate lapdogs in Congress are willing to go along with it, chances are consumers are going to continue to pay outrageous sums for prescription drugs.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.