The patent system is broken

I recently posted about the unbelievably high costs of healthcare in the US, as I had in the past (this is an almost unavoidable subject).

The New York Times is publishing a series of articles on this. The most recent installment deals with drug costs: The Soaring Cost of a Simple Breath.

It’s an in-depth analysis, I can’t recomment enough reading it and the other articles in the series. What I would like to point out, however, is how the patent system is being used to keep drug prices at that absurd level, something I wrote about before. One of the most egregious examples of this is the granting of patents for whatever reason for drugs that already were in the market, something that I also posted about.

The NYT piece abounds in examples of this kind of abuse, for example:

Unlike other countries, where the government directly or indirectly sets an allowed national wholesale price for each drug, the United States leaves prices to market competition among pharmaceutical companies, including generic drug makers. But competition is often a mirage in today’s health care arena — a surprising number of lifesaving drugs are made by only one manufacturer — and businesses often successfully blunt market forces.
Asthma inhalers, for example, are protected by strings of patents — for pumps, delivery systems and production processes — that are hard to skirt to make generic alternatives, even when the medicines they contain are old, as they almost all are.
The repatenting of older drugs like some birth control pills, insulin and colchicine, the primary treatment for gout, has rendered medicines that once cost pennies many times more expensive.

Patents are a State-granted monopoly to supposedly protect and incentivize invention. It is clearly not doing so. Time to think of new ways.


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