Look all you want, it ain't getting any cheaper
Turns out that while vigorously defending a free market, drug companies are bribing their competitors not to bring out far cheaper, generic drugs:
Over the last few years, drug-makers have embraced a startlingly simple tactic for fending off competition from generic brands: paying them off. In a nutshell, the company that holds the patent on a profitable drug strikes a deal with the maker of the cheaper generic brand: you hold off on marketing your generic for several years, and in return, we'll give you a share of our profits on the drug.
The vehicle for these deals is patent litigation. When a generic drug is approved to come to market, the maker of the more expensive name-brand drug sues the generic for patent infringement. But instead of a conventional settlement, in which the generic pays the patent-holder to settle the claim that it infringed the patent, the payment goes the other way: the patent-holder pays the maker of the generic, in exchange for a pledge to delay bringing the generic to market. That suggests the patent-holder fears its patent wouldn't hold up in court, as many don't.
Horrific, of course, but hardly unexpected. It always amuses me when people expect companies engineered for profit — at all costs — to follow laws that would harm their windfalls. Like medieval barons genuflecting before the church, corporations will preach the free market gospel when it suits them and ignore it when it does not.
Black market drug factories are nothing new, but up until now they've been the domain of narcotics, rather than standard medicine. But if rising drug prices and corporate cartels continue, it's not hard to imagine some enterprising makers grinding away in basement factories, getting the newest shipment of antibiotics ready for the streets. It's equally easy to envision bribes paid to lower-level corporate workers to heist the formulas for new drugs, so local undergrounds can begin cranking them out.
Ad-hoc operations like that have a nasty, ramshackle side, but I doubt the people who suddenly find needed medicine unattainable will care. The barons should remember: there is always another way.