Capital Appropriations

One man’s plan for high-concept health care legislation.

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After watching the city’s spending on drugs for Medicaid recipients and municipal employees rise 256 percent during his seven-year tenure, Washington, D.C., City Council member David Catania came up with a plan for high-concept health care legislation. His law? That the city can invoke eminent domain over drug patents, then make the drugs available as cheaper generics.

It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. For decades, the United States has used eminent domain to issue compulsory licenses in the defense industry. Patent holders get “just compensation” —such as the 1 percent royalty Hughes Aircraft made on its satellite technology after the courts ruled that 15 percent, or $3.3 billion, was excessive. The same could happen in health care. During the 2001 anthrax scare, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson threatened to ignore Bayer’s Cipro patent to get hold of a cheaper generic; Bayer ended up boosting production and cutting the price.

Under pressure from businesses, Catania was undaunted. He rewrote the measure, minus the eminent domain language, and instead drew on the city’s powers to protect consumers. On a first vote, the council unanimously supported the new bill, which would allow residents to sue a drug company for “excessive prices,” when compared with those in Canada and elsewhere. If he can win this one in a final vote this summer—a big if, we know, since many great artists enjoy little success during their lifetimes—and a judge rules a drug is too pricey, the court could issue a compulsory license, authorizing the city to turn to another manufacturer.

Plus, Catania’s idea isn’t just high-concept; it’s virtual, since, he claims, the district would never have to enforce it. Drug companies would preemptively negotiate with the city to stay out of the courts, explains Catania. “They’ll do anything they possibly can to avoid discussing how they price their drugs,” he says. His constituents, meanwhile, would celebrate the bargains.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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