White House hopes to make generic drugs available more quickly

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Monday proposed an election-year solution to rising prescription drug costs, ordering the government to block pharmaceutical companies from filing multiple patent-protection lawsuits that can stall cheaper products for years.

"This is another important advancement in the cause of bringing more affordable prescription medicines to our seniors," Bush said in a morning appearance in the White House Rose Garden.

Senior citizens historically vote in high percentages during midterm elections and are being courted by both parties for the Nov. 5 elections that will determine control of Congress.

The Democratic-run Senate approved legislation three months ago designed to make generic drugs more available, but the Bush administration opposed it. Parts of the Senate-passed measure resemble Bush's proposal.

"I'm taking action to close the loopholes, to promote fair competition and to reduce the cost of prescription drugs in America," Bush said. He mentioned his support of senior citizens at least three times.

"This sounds like an Election Day conversion," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who sponsored the Senate bill.

"This could be a very good proposal, but given the White House's track record on this issue, it could be just another loophole to let the name-brand drug companies delay the implementation of generic drugs," Schumer said.

Limiting 30-day stays

Patent protections allow drug companies to recoup the cost of developing life-saving medicine. The patents eventually expire, allowing the drugs to be produced cheaper under generic brands.

Bush said "the careful balance of the law is being undermined" by drug companies the repeatedly seek 30-month delays in the expiration of their patents.

Bush intends to limit those so-called stays.

"Last year, the average brand name drug cost more than $72 per prescription," he said. "The average price for generic drugs, which were just as safe and effective as the brand name drugs, were just $17 per prescription."

The administration estimated the change would save $3 billion in drug costs per year.

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