A recent commentary (“Supreme Court must right wrong striking down Md.'s drug price-gouging statute,” Jan. 4) provides a guide to why patients are still frustrated about the state of drug prices, but not as the author intended. When the writer of the op-ed — like the drafters of Maryland’s generic drug legislation — myopically focuses on the “the Martin Shkrelis of the pharmaceutical industry,” he loses sight of what is driving high costs for patients: expensive brand-name drugs.
Before being jailed for securities fraud, Mr. Shkreli led Turing Pharmaceuticals, a maker of brand-name drugs, including some drugs whose patents had expired. What Mr. Shkreli and Turing did not manufacture were affordable generic drugs which, inexplicably, are the target of Maryland’s unconstitutional law. More bizarrely, Maryland legislators explicitly chose not to have a law intended to protect Marylanders from high drug prices apply to high priced brand-name drugs.
Generic medications saved Maryland $4.2 billion in 2017 and the United States as a whole saved $265.1 billion. Contrary to the author’s contention, generic drugs have experienced price deflation in recent years — down more than 70 percent since 2008 — leading U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to testify last year before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee that generic drug prices may actually be too low.
There is no doubt that drug prices, writ-large, are unconscionably high. But those high prices are a result of systematic price increases by brand-name drug manufacturers. AARP tells us that brand-name drug prices continue to rise at a pace greater than 100 times inflation. Policymakers often fail to distinguish between expensive brand-name and more-affordable generic drugs when crafting laws and the Maryland legislation was a prime example of that confusion.
Competition from generic drugs is the only proven means of driving drug prices down. Well-intended, but misguided, legislation like the Maryland law in question has the unintended consequence of harming patients by making it more difficult for generic drugs to compete with brand-name medications.The courts got it right when they struck down the law, and patients in Maryland will benefit as a result.
Chester "Chip" Davis, Jr., Washington, D.C.