Legislation to be introduced in Washington next week by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin aims to prevent large prescription drug price hikes.

The bill would reduce government-granted exclusivity periods for medications if their prices are significantly increased, the Springfield Democrat said.

Pharmaceutical companies are allowed periods of five to 12 years beyond a new medication's patent protection when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will not review or approve cheaper, generic alternatives to new drugs. Durbin said that extra time allows drug manufacturers to charge whatever they want without worrying about competition.

“Our system for medications does not function as a free market; there are too many forces at work that limit competition,” Durbin said during a press conference Friday at the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation. “Often, big pharma charges as much as they can get away with because they are protected by government-granted monopolies.”

The Forcing Limits on Abusive and Tumultuous (FLAT) Drug Prices Act would reduce the FDA-granted exclusivity period for a drug if its price increases more than 10 percent a year, or similar amounts over a multi-year period.

“Abusive drug manufacturers should not be protected by our government,” Durbin said. “Unfortunately, there is no effective deterrent today against big pharma and the price gouging that we’re seeing in so many drugs.”

An example Durbin gave was the drug Lyrica, which treats fibromyalgia, diabetic nerve pain, spinal cord injury nerve pain and pain after shingles. He said the price for the drug has increased by more than 30 percent since the beginning of 2017. It now costs $550 a month.

“Because (Lyrica) has been granted market exclusivity by the FDA through November 2021, Pfizer increases the price any time they wish,” Durbin said. “It wouldn’t happen under this bill that I’m proposing.”

Sharon Castillo, spokeswoman for Pfizer, said it would be inappropriate for the company to speculate on the potential impact of a bill that has not been introduced in Congress.

“We disagree with that characterization of patent-protected, American medical innovations,” she said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the administration and Congress to look for solutions that ensure that our medicines are both accessible and affordable to the patients who need them.”

Dr. Virginia Dolan, medical director of population health for Memorial Health System and a pediatrician, said most of the time, families do not know if the medication they need will be affordable.

“They walk with anxiety to the pharmacy counter,” she said. “Sometimes they’re life-saving medicines. Just as often, they’re making just routine pharmacy trips, picking up medicines that they’ve budgeted, that they’ve perhaps taken for months or years. Then they have a fun surprise of new cash total.”

One of Dolan’s patients has type 1 diabetes. Her family has good insurance. Yet they spend more than $10,000 a year on medication, Dolan said.

“I applaud this bill and the hope that it offers to improve this dire situation,” she said.

Durbin said members of President Donald Trump's administration, including Health Secretary Alex Azar, have been working with him on the issue.

“In the course of (Trump’s campaign) he has said he wants to deal with drug pricing. I think he’s serious,” Durbin said. “If the president sticks with that campaign promise and backs up the bills which I’m working on with the administration, I think we have a chance to do this.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said he hopes there is bipartisanship when it comes to the issue of drug company representatives raising prices exponentially, “then coming in front of Congress acting like spoiled rich kids that don’t need to answer to anyone.”

“I hope we have bipartisan support addressing our broken healthcare system that’s leaving over 16 million people in this country uninsured or having insurance they can’t afford to use,” Davis said, speaking at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site on Friday. “That’s a problem Democrats said they were going to solve if given the chance to run the House of Representatives. Now it’s on them to show us what their plan is.”

Staff writer Bernard Schoenburg contributed to this article. Contact Cassie Buchman: 782-3095, cjbuchman@sj-r.com, twitter.com/cjbuchman.