AIDS Drug Access Issue ‘Sure to Grow More Intense’ in Washington, Wall Street Journal Op-Ed States
South Africa's Medicines and Related Substances Act, a 1997 law that allows the country to acquire cheaper AIDS drugs through parallel importing and compulsory licensing, "may be setting the trend" for wealthier nations to develop their own policies for lowering the price of patented drugs, Alan Murray writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The 39 drug companies that have filed a lawsuit against the act "correctly see the camel's nose nuzzling into their gold-trimmed tents," Murray writes, adding that the lawsuit seeks not only to protect the firms' profits in South Africa, but in markets "worldwide." Murray notes that the United States has also seen its share of talk on "rolling back patent protection as a free-market alternative to price controls." This talk has circulated not just among "price-fixing Democrats," but among Republicans such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Gail Wilensky, who headed the Health Care Financing Administration under former President Bush. But "[t]here is no 'market-based' answer to the question of how much intellectual property protection is appropriate," Murray writes, adding that too little protection will "clearly destroy incentives to innovate," while too much protection will "creat[e] monopolies that can ... driv[e] prices too high and ... suffocate further innovation." Murray states that politicians and lawyers "must" decide on a balance between the two situations. However, since the public "pays little attention" to the issue of property protections, "monied interests ... rule" in making the decisions. Murray concludes that the "simmering" concern over patent protections "isn't likely to reach full boil this year," since drug companies that "bankrolled" GOP candidates in the last election will use their influence to "advance their interests even further." But the issue is "sure to grow more intense in the years ahead," Murray predicts (Murray, Wall Street Journal, 3/19).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.