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Three decades ago, Congress listened to the plight of Americans sick with diseases so rare many people had never heard of them. They were victims of a pharmaceutical market failure — “orphans” ignored by drug companies because, the thinking went, tiny groups of patients would lead to trifling sales.

1. What is the Orphan Drug Act and what was it meant to do?
2. How has the situation changed since the passing of this law in 1983?
3. Why do critics and healthcare professionals think that this law has backfired? What is your opinion?
4. If reality is detached from a law’s original rationale, what should be done? Is this a common course of action? Give an example.
5. What other industries other than the pharmaceutical industry would be affected and why?
6. Would you consider some companies to be price gouging as a result? Why or why not?

Johnson, C. (2016). High prices make once-neglected ‘orphan’ drugs a booming business. The Washington Post, August 4 (Retrievable online at