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abstract

Drugs are much more expensive whilst they are subject to patent protection than once patents expire: patented drugs make up only 20% of NHS drugs prescriptions, but consume 80% of the total NHS drugs bill. This article argues that, given the relatively uncontroversial assumption that we should save the greater number in cases where all are equally deserving and we cannot save both groups, it is more difficult than is usually thought to justify why publicly funded healthcare systems should pay for patented treatments. The claim to medical treatment of those who will be sick with a given condition once the patent runs out is just as strong as those who are sick with it now, but we will be able to treat more people with the same unit of resource in the future. Hence, when resource constraints entail that both cannot be funded, publicly funded healthcare systems ought to wait until patents expire before approving drugs for general use in the publicly funded system.