A Not So Capital Idea After All

  • by: |
  • 12/29/2005

A federal judge has ruled that a District of Columbia law designed to reduce the price of prescription drugs is unconstitutional and blocked its implementation. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the law, passed this fall, violates constitutional protections of interstate commerce and goes against the will of Congress.

Under the measure, the manufacturer of a drug that cost 30 percent more in the District than in four designated countries (Germany, Canada, Australia, Great Britain) would have to prove that the price was not excessive. The drug company could seek to justify the price based on research-and-development costs, its profit margin or other factors. If the manufacturer failed in that effort, a court could impose civil penalties.

Leon’s opinion said the District law is in direct conflict with federal patent law, in which Congress designed a “carefully crafted bargain intended to provide pharmaceutical companies with incentives to develop drugs. Those incentives include exclusive sales rights for a certain period,” he said. Punishing the holders of pharmaceutical patents in this manner flies directly in the face of a system of rewards calculated by Congress to insure the continued strength of an industry vital to our national interests, Leon wrote.

“This is an important issue and one worthy of a fight,” said Council member and author of the legislation David Catania. “No one suggested it would be quick or easy.”

Or safe. Or sound. Or plausible. Or … legal. But never mind the details.

Catania vowed to continue the legal battle and keep an open mind about revising the law.

That’s nice.

Another Council member, Vincent C. Gray, said, “If this [law] is not the instrument that can get it done, then we need to look at others.”

That’s nice too. May I recommend the councilman look at the recent experiences of Nevada, Texas, Vermont, Minnesota, and Illinois for starters.

After all, it’s nice to share.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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