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CU calls on Senate Health to approve Schumer-McCain drug bill before Memorial Day recess

Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Consumers Union calls on Senate Health Committee to approve Schumer-McCain drug bill before Memorial Day recess

WASHINGTON, DC – Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, today called on a Senate health committee to approve generic-drug legislation before Congress adjourns for the Memorial Day recess.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on generic drugs this afternoon. Witnesses will include Senators Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., the co-sponsors of a bill (S. 812) to overhaul drug patent law in order to prevent many of the anticompetitive tactics used by drug companies to keep generic versions of drugs off the market.
Consumers Union said the committee should mark up and approve the bill no later than May 24, the target date for lawmakers to leave Washington for a week-long recess. Janell Mayo Duncan, legislative counsel for Consumers Union, said that the legislation is needed in order to help consumers find lower-priced alternatives as drug prices spiral out of control.
“Congress is aware of how some companies keep generic drugs off the shelves by manipulating the government’s patent-approval process,” said Duncan. “It’s time to stop talking about the problem and pass a bill. The Senate Health Committee should demonstrate its commitment to fixing this problem by approving the Schumer-McCain bill before members leave for recess.
“If Congress makes it easier for generics to be sold alongside brand-name drugs, older Americans could save $250 billion over the next ten years,” said Duncan, citing a 2002 study by Brandeis University. “Brandeis looked at the drugs prescribed to older Americans that are most commonly covered by insurance. 34.5 percent of these prescriptions are generic drugs. If the use of generics were to increase from 34.5 percent to 51 percent, the study finds that per capita savings would be over $350 per person next year alone.
“This 16.5 percent increase in generic use would result in savings of up to $100 billion over ten years for the Medicare drug-benefit plans proposed by lawmakers. The federal government cannot afford such a benefit without reining in prescription drug expenditures, and we believe that the Schumer-McCain bill is critical to achieving this goal.
“This bill would clean up the drug patent approval process in a number of ways. It would stop the filing of frivolous citizen petitions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to delay generic drug approval. It would also eliminate the requirement that the FDA delay the approval of a generic drug merely because a brand-name company claims that the shape or color of a generic pill amounts to patent infringement. Without a bill like this one, the burden of paying for prescription drugs is only going to get heavier with each passing year. There are only a few months left before the congressional session ends altogether. That’s why the Senate Health Committee needs to pass this bill before the Memorial Day break.”
For more information contact: Janell Mayo Duncan – (202) 462-6262