AUGUSTA — Why are drug prices so high? Can we do anything about it? As a pharmacist and a legislator, I hear these questions every single day.

The first question is pretty easy to answer. Mainers need life-saving drugs, and in some cases there are only a few companies making them, which results in high prices. One of the key causes of high drug prices is that some brand-name companies do whatever they can to discourage potential generic competition – competition that would lower drug costs. Where generics are available, though, consumers enjoy far lower prices and greater access to these important medicines.

One of the tactics they employ is to deny generic companies access to the drug samples they need, and to which they are entitled under the law, to develop a competing medicine. Generic drugs are on average 75 percent less expensive than their brand-name counterparts, and when they are available, generic drugs are prescribed 90 percent of the time. In fact, generics saved Maine $954 million in 2015, according to a 2016 study conducted by the Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

The pharmaceutical system in our country was designed to encourage brand-name drug companies to innovate and find new cures. After brand-name companies develop new drugs, they recoup their investment in research by making a profit while their products are protected by patents. However, once the patents on brand-name medications expire, generic-drug manufacturers are free to compete so patients can obtain the drugs they need at a more affordable price. This system gives the brand company incentive to keep innovating.

Sadly, that’s not what happens.

Often, brand-name companies withhold critical samples that prevent generic manufacturers from even filing an application with the Food and Drug Administration to get approval. This keeps generic versions of their products off pharmacy shelves for years, all while we struggle to pay for the medicines we need.

So, what are we going to do about it?

L.D. 1280, An Act to Require Drug Manufacturers To Comply with Federal Law, fixes some of these abuses and puts an end to brand obstruction and anti-competitive practices. This bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, garnered an 11-to-2 vote in favor from the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce and Economic Development Committee. If passed, L.D. 1280 will ensure that patients in Maine have greater access to affordable health care options.

How so? This bill ensures competition in the marketplace by preventing a licensed drug manufacturer from restricting a sale to an eligible generic company of the samples they need in order to conduct testing required by the FDA for approval. A generics company would pay fair market price for these samples, and such a sale is industry standard. If a brand-name company were to break the law, avoiding sales to a generics company, the Maine Attorney General’s Office could enforce this law, compelling the brand-name companies to sell their product and allowing the generic manufacturer’s testing to move forward.

There is no extra cost to our state government or to citizens for this empowerment – but there is a cost to brand-name drug companies. It means billions of dollars, and they are fighting to hold on to their money.

No matter how bipartisan our support and how right we are on the merits, there will always be detractors. They are trying to blur what is abundantly clear: This is a problem for all Mainers that we can and will fix. I encourage all members of the 128th Legislature to join me and my colleagues and side with an approach to this problem that’s been endorsed by so many on both sides of the aisle. At the end of the day, we are all patients, and we all deserve safe, effective and affordable medicines.

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