When Congress Debates Drug Pricing, Generics Must Remain a Critical Component of this Conversation

Downey

By Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-11)

Policy objectives with bipartisan support are hard to find in Congress, but one issue that seems to bring both sides of the aisle together is drug-pricing reform. Both Republicans and Democrats want meaningful action to lower the cost of prescription drugs, and it’s being reported that drug-pricing reform may be a component of the Congressional infrastructure package. If so, it is critical that our elected officials promote policies that ensure generic drugs continue to be widely available to keep health care costs down for consumers.

The need for increased access to generic drugs is simple. Generics cost roughly 40 percent less than brand name medicine, while consumers get the same strength, dosage and quality of medication. At a time of increased economic uncertainty for families across the state, with New Jersey reporting a 7.7 percentunemployment rate in March, our elected officials should do everything in their power to keep consumer costs low – particularly on things like life-saving medicine.

The cost of prescriptions represents a significant out-of-pocket burden, even to those with insurance, and this burden disproportionately affects lower-income families who often can’t afford “name-brand” prescriptions. No working mother should have to choose between a much-needed medication and putting food on the table for her children.

And name-brand drugs have continued to get more expensive. A 2019 study looked at the costs of 49 common top-selling brand-name drugs, over three-fourths of which had been available since 2012. This study found that these drugs had increased out-of-pocket costs by over 50 percent, and 44 percent have more than doubled in price. Researchers expect this trend to continue.

It is well known that the United States spends more per person on prescription drugs than any other country, and generic drugs are a key component to decreasing overall health care costs while improving health outcomes. This is why Congress must protect the policies that help generic drugs remain widely available.

One such policy is the 180-day generic drug exclusivity provision, which gives the first developer of a generic medicine six months of market exclusivity. This critical policy incentivizes the development of lower-cost medicines. And is a win-win for consumers. Once the market exclusivity for these first generics expire, other generic manufacturers hit the market and increase the availability of these lower priced prescription options. Hopefully, any changes to drug-pricing that occur as part of the infrastructure package will protect policies like the 180-day incentive that help increase competition and the availability of generic drugs.

Thankfully, our Congressional delegation is full of champions for working-class families who have significant influence in Congress, like co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus Congressman Josh Gottheimer, and Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, as well as Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker. We know they will continue fighting for decreased health care costs for New Jerseyans by supporting the availability of generic drug options for those who need it.

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