Can We Talk About Drug Patents?

June 25, 2014

The NYT had a short editorial discussing the issues raised by the refusal of insurance companies to pay for many expensive drugs of questionable usefulness. It would have been useful to point out the reason that drug prices are high and that drug companies mislead the public about the degree of their effectiveness. 

If the government did not grant patent monopolies, most of these drugs would sell for less than 10 percent of their patent protected prices and possibly less than one percent. This would make their affordability a non-issue in almost all cases. It would also take away the incentive for drug companies to mislead the public about the effectiveness and safety of their drugs. 

There are alternatives to patent support funding for research, such as the $30 billion in direct funding that the government commits now through the National Institutes of Health. While this funding mostly goes for more basic research, there is nothing except the political power of the pharmaceutical industry that prevents the funding from being used for the development and clinical testing of drugs. If the government were to increase its funding then all drugs developed through this mechanism could be sold as generics and the research findings immediately made public. This way the results would be accessible to doctors, patients, and other researchers.


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