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Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

Bipartisan House bills target price-gouging, monopolies and transparency for taxpayer funded COVID-19 drugs

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Reckoning with the possibility of bad actors taking advantage of a crisis, House members introduced two bills this week to protect patients from price-gouging on taxpayer funded COVID-19 drugs, avoid monopolies, and strengthen oversight of federally invested research and development funds.

The efforts took the form of the Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Pricegouging Act (MMAPPP) Act of 2020 and the Taxpayer Research and Coronavirus Knowledge (TRACK) Act. MMAPPP was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee. TRACK was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee.

“We have good reason to be skeptical about the role of the pharmaceutical industry,” Schakowsky said. “Well before this pandemic, we saw price gouging that cost lives. Now, during a global health crisis, many pharmaceutical companies will see another opportunity to benefit themselves by ‘pandemic profiteering.’ That cannot stand.”

MMAPPP would create protections against drug price gouging on COVID-19 drugs specifically, prohibiting monopolies on these drugs and requiring the federal government to mandate reasonable pricing for any such medication. Transparency would also be demanded by requiring manufacturers to report their expenditures on any COVID-19 drug publicly. The one stipulation taking measures beyond COVID-19 is a call to prevent excessive pricing of any drug used to treat a disease that causes a public health emergency through the waving of exclusive licenses and compensation instead established through reasonable royalties.

By contrast, TRACK would allow taxpayers to monitor public investments into COVID-19 research by requiring federal support of R&D to be hosted on a single database. On that database would be all financial and non-financial federal support given to pharmaceutical companies, clinical trial data, and patent information, along with full terms of any agreements reached between the government and manufacturers.

“Transparency and accountability are always vital tonics to keep democracy healthy,” Doggett said. “Crafting a new, strong oversight tool, the TRACK Act reveals to taxpayers how billions of public funds are being used—information any private investor would demand. The MMAPPP Act seeks universal access through fair pricing and open licensing, to prevent Big Pharma from co-opting the fruit of taxpayer investments and charging sky-high prices. Without Congressional action, we cannot know how much public resources pandemic profiteers are obtaining, nor prevent the taxpayers, who are the angel investors contributing billions, from being price gouged for the very pharmaceuticals they paid to develop.”

Both bills also gained the support of U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Francis Rooney (R-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), along with numerous medical and community organizations.