Why Aren’t the Democrats Talking About Ending Patent Financed Drug Research?

6th July 2019 Off By binary
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(This post orginally appeared on my Patreon page.)

Many of the leading Democratic candidates, especially Sanders and Warren, have been putting forward bold progressive plans in a wide variety of areas. Sanders and Warren have both supported a quick transition to a universal Medicare program, with no premiums, co-pays, or deductibles. Several candidates have supported a Green New Deal, which in some versions would guarantee every worker in the country a decent paying job.

Such policies are really big deals. They would both have a huge impact on people’s lives and also pose serious problems of implementation. The willingness of Democrats to think big in other areas makes their determination to think small on prescription drugs surprising. Replacing government-granted patent monopoly financing of research is both a huge deal and one that can be implemented gradually without threatening massive disruptions in a transition process.

Free Market Drugs Are a Really Big Deal

First, it is necessary to realize that having drugs available at free market prices, without patent monopolies or other forms of exclusivity, would have an enormous impact on the economy and the health care system. On the first point, we will spend more than $460 billion on prescription drugs in 2019. Without patent protection, these drugs would almost certainly sell for less than $80 billion, implying a savings of more than $380 billion.[1] 

To put this $380 billion figure in context, it is more than five times the annual food stamp budget. It is more than twice the size of the Trump tax cut. If we project out the savings over the course of a decade, they would come to more than $5 trillion. That is more than three times the amount that is projected to be needed to cover the cost of full forgiveness for outstanding student loan debt. This is more than $30,000 per household. In short, there is huge money at stake by any measure.

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