People talk about the high price of pharmaceuticals as if high prices lasted forever. In fact, within a year of the expiration of a pharmaceutical’s patents, prices will typically fall by more than 50 percent as generic producers enter the market. Patents nominally last for 20 years but the effective patent life is much lower because patents are typically granted years before a product has cleared FDA review. The effective patent life of the average new pharmaceutical in the 1990s averaged just 12 years (see here for some references). Competition from competing but non-infringing pharmaceuticals makes the de facto patent life even shorter.
Thus, my response to the seniors and others clamoring for lower pharmaceutical prices is to be more patient. Does this sound harsh? Consider this, the people who are demanding price controls are not simply asking for lower drug prices they are asking for lower prices on the newest drugs. Lower prices for drugs introduced 15 years ago are already here. Remember, those drugs were recently considered the very best modern medicine has to offer, so it’s not like I am expecting those who can’t afford the newer medicines to go back to using leeches.
Price controls or other such plans such as reimportation may bring cheaper pharmaceuticals for a short period but we will then have a much smaller supply of new drugs forever. Only the shortsighted would buy that prescription.