Trump Seeks to Require Drug Prices in TV Ads

The Department of Health and Human Services is "evaluating" the requirement that drug companies list the price of their drugs in TV ads, just as they are required to list the possible side effects, and it looks like drug companies are willing to adopt that approach, at least in some form.

“If we want to have a real market for drugs, why not have [companies] disclose their prices in [direct-to-consumer] ads, too?," HHS secretary Alex Azar said Monday (Oct. 15).

Specifically, HHS wants to "require direct-to-consumer television advertisements for prescription drug and biological products paid for by Medicare or Medicaid to include the list price if the list price—the Wholesale Acquisition Cost—is greater than $35 for a month’s supply or the usual course of therapy, with the prices updated quarterly."

HHS points out that the 10 most commonly advertised drugs currently have a list price of between $535 and a whopping $11,000 per month.

The move is the first "immediate action" listed as part of a larger "blueprint" for "bringing down the high price of drugs and reducing out-of-pocket costs for the American consumer."

At about the same time the Trump Administration announced its blueprint, PhRMA, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, announced that they would be providing "more transparency" about the costs of their medicines in direct-to-consumer ads, including "direct[ing] patients to information about medicine costs," including the list price as well as "available financial assistance."

But the key to that is the "directing patients" part, since PhRMA suggests that could be to a Web site where the information would be, rather than in the body of the ad. “All DTC television advertising that identifies a medicine by name should include direction as to where patients can find information about the cost of the medicine, such as a company-developed website," the association said.

“Our member companies are taking a new approach to how they communicate about medicines in DTC television advertisements to make it easier for patients to access information about medicine costs,” said PhRMA president Stephen J. Ubl. “The Administration and Congress have called on our industry to provide cost information in DTC advertisements, and our members are voluntarily stepping up to the plate.”

But PhRMA suggested the Web site approach was better than putting the actual prices in the ads.

"PhRMA remains concerned that just including list prices in these advertisements is not sufficient and could discourage patients from seeking needed medical care," it said. "List prices are not a good indicator of what a patient will pay at the pharmacy counter and do not reflect the substantial discounts and rebates negotiated by insurers and pharmacy benefit managers. In addition, any such requirement would raise significant legal issues, including First Amendment concerns."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.