Pharma alert: U.S. lawmakers win bipartisan support for tweaked price-gouging bill

Following up on a similar bill that didn’t make it far in the U.S. Congress last year, a pair of legislators are pushing forward with an act aimed at fighting price gouging and improving generic competition.

Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Kurt Schrader introduced the Lower Drug Costs Through Competition Act this week to boost incentives for generic drug development in markets where there’s a monopoly or a drug shortage. The legislation has important support from House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Rep. Greg Walden.

Next week, Walden will start the process of advancing the bill through his committee, according to prepared remarks for a Tuesday hearing. The Oregon congressman was part of a group who met with President Donald Trump Tuesday to talk about drug prices, among a slew of other issues affecting the pharmaceutical industry.

Bilirakis and Schrader’s bill is “nearly identical” to a House bill introduced last March, according to the FDA Law Blog. It would prioritize FDA reviews for copycats to meds in markets with little competition and for those included on an official shortage list. It would also add incentives for copycat drug development by creating a priority review voucher system for generic applications. So far, the bill has bipartisan support.

Citing a series of hikes targeted during pharma’s protracted pricing controversy, Rep. Schrader said the bill could have helped in cases of recent price increases by Mylan on EpiPen, Turing Pharma on Daraprim and Valeant Pharmaceuticals on a lead-poisoning treatment. Each case featured a drug with no generic competition as its manufacturer jacked up prices, Rep. Schrader’s statement said.

Not mincing words, Rep. Schrader called “the greed and abuse of power” from some drug companies in recent years “disgusting.”

“We keep hearing stories about lifesaving drugs becoming astronomically expensive, sometimes overnight and often with zero explanation,” he continued. “This outrageous price gouging has to stop.”

Their bill comes after more than a year of scrutiny into pharma’s pricing practices, sparked by Turing’s overnight hike on Daraprim and subsequent headlines detailing price increases by larger players.

Earlier this week, following Trump's pharma meeting, frequent pharma critic Sen. Bernie Sanders said he's willing to pitch in and help fight high costs.