Efforts to close the loophole have become the subject of a fierce behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign on rival bills that reauthorize industry user fees, which are now before a Congressional conference committee. The bill must pass since user fees now account for over half of the Food and Drug Administration’s drug division budget.
The Senate bill, which passed in a near unanimous vote last month, required that brand-name manufacturers cooperate with potential generic competitors by turning over samples of the more dangerous drugs. But the House version stripped the requirement after the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry trade group, voiced opposition. The bill is now in conference.
“This stuff sounds arcane, but it has enormous potential to cost consumers tens of billions of dollars,” said Ralph Neas, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association. “Brand companies are using REMS to prevent generic companies from getting samples for testing.”
The group has lined up support from AARP, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which manage prescription drug benefit plans for major employers, and a wide range of consumer groups. “The average price of generic drugs is $40 a month or 75 percent less than brand name drugs,” said David Certner, a lobbyist for AARP, which claims a membership of 20 million older Americans. “With biologics soon to be eligible for generic competition, it is absolutely critical that they be made affordable.”
According to generic proponents, PhRMA and the Biotechnology Industry Organization have inundated Capitol Hill with lobbyists in recent weeks to keep the Senate provision out of the final bill. The drug industry and other health-related firms rank number one among all industries in lobbying this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, having spent $67 million in the first quarter alone, which is 50 percent more than any other industry. The top five lobbying groups for all of health care were PhRMA ($5.3 million), Merck ($4.5 million), Pfizer ($3.5 million), Eli Lilly ($2.9 million) and Novartis ($2.8 million).
PhRMA senior vice president Matthew Bennett, in a prepared statement, did not comment directly on the issue, but did say that “REMS were not created to serve the interests of the generic drug or PBM sectors. When REMS are imposed on companies by the FDA,” he said, “it is within the context of patient safety, and that should continue to be the focus moving forward.”