- The Washington Times
Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Trump administration finalized a rule Wednesday requiring drug companies to disclose the list price of their medicines in television ads, a bipartisan idea that’s rattled Big Pharma.

TV viewers will now see price information, alongside health benefits or side effects, for any drug that costs $35 or more for a monthly supply, the Health and Human Services Department said.

President Trump is pushing the idea as part of a broader plan to slash drug prices.

Though few people pay the full price, the administration says shining a light on the wholesale acquisition cost will force companies to think twice about annual price increases and spur competition, as patients explore alternatives with their doctors.

“Patients have a right to know. And if you’re ashamed of your drug prices, change your drug prices,” Health Secretary Alex Azar said. “It’s that simple.”

HHS also says the list price is a starting point for discount negotiations and how much seniors on Medicare shell out in co-payments. People with high-deductible plans often pay the full list price, too.

The administration has compared the idea to a decades-old rule on automakers, who are required to disclose the starting price of their cars before haggling.

The rule is scheduled to take effect in about 60 days. HHS said drugmakers must display their list prices in legible text, against a contrasting background, at the end of their TV ads.

The price must be displayed in a size and style of font that makes it easy to read, and it must stay on the screen long enough for viewers to absorb it.

Sens. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, applauded the move and said they will continue to push legislation that would mirror the regulatory action.

The pharmaceutical industry said the plan could backfire, since the list price isn’t what most people pay after discounts and insurance. They’ve pushed to include information, voluntarily, on their websites and through other materials.

“We are concerned that the administration‘s rule requiring list prices in direct-to-consumer (DTC) television advertising could be confusing for patients and may discourage them from seeking needed medical care,” said Stephen J. Ubl, president and CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). “We support providing patients with more transparency about medicine costs, which is why our member companies voluntarily began directing patients to links to comprehensive cost information in their DTC television advertising.”

Mr. Azar said a web link to more information in TV ads won’t cut it. He said drugmakers that fail to list their prices on ads will face legal action from rival companies.

A company that refuses to disclose its price in a TV ad is “implicitly suggesting” that its drug costs less than $35, he said, “and a competitor would sue you.”

Drug prices have long been a leading concern for voters, so the president and members of Congress are taking notice ahead of the 2020 campaign.

Democrats have urged Mr. Trump to go bold and use federal authority under Medicare to drive down prices, though Republicans and the White House say that amounts to government overreach.

Mr. Trump is, however, pushing to set prices for doctor-administered drugs under Medicare Part B at levels that are closer to what other developed nations pay.

Elsewhere, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing a plan that would allow people in his state to import cheaper drugs from Canada. The Republican governor, a strong Trump ally, spoke about the plan this week with the president.

Mr. Azar said the administration is open to the idea, pending more details from Florida or other states considering it.

“We support importation, if it can be done safely and if we can deliver real savings to patients,” the secretary said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.