Earlier this month, it was announced that the Trump administration will begin requiring pharmaceutical companies to include the price of prescription drugs in television advertisements if the cost exceeds $35 per month — which would include most drugs used to treat and prevent HIV.
The new policy — announced on May 8 by Alex M. Azar II, secretary of Health and Human Services — is the administration’s attempt to address the rising cost of prescription drugs, as The New York Times reported. Rising prescription drug costs have been a key issue for American voters and one that both Republicans and Democrats have vowed to address.
Of course the proposed policy is anticipated to be challenged by the drug industry, which argues that revealing the list price will confuse consumers and could violate the companies’ First Amendment rights. While the list price of some drugs can be thousands of dollars a month, reported The Times, patients with insurance that covers their prescriptions frequently pay far less, often less than $50.
“We are moving from a system where people are left in the dark to a system where patients are put in the driver’s seat,” Mr. Azar said in a conference call with reporters.
As anyone who watches TV these days knows, drug companies are already required to provide a list of potential side effects in ads. Now, under the new guidelines (expected to take effect this summer), all direct-to-consumer TV ads for drugs covered by Medicare or Medicaid must include the list price, also known as the wholesale acquisition price, in their ads, said Azar.
A disclaimer will also state, “if you have insurance that covers drugs, your cost may be different,” according to officials at the Department of Health and Human Services.
A 2011-2014 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly half of Americans (48.9 percent) had taken at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days — making this the first truly bipartisan issue that the current administration has addressed.
The move has been pushed by patient advocacy groups, which have complained that televised drug ads often promote high-priced medications or drugs that people don’t necessarily need. In fact, many of the most heavily advertised drugs cost literally thousands of dollars per month. Two dosing pens of AbbVie’s Humira, which treats rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions, said The Times report, have an average retail price of $5,684, according to the website GoodRx, which tracks drug prices. Another frequently advertised drug, Xeljanz, a Pfizer arthritis medication, costs about $4,840 a month.
The measure was applauded by Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois ( a Democrat) and Charles Grassley of Iowa (a Republican), who both have tried to pass similar legislation in the past. “Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements are everywhere, and they tell you just about everything imaginable about the drug, other than its price,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We believe American patients deserve transparency.”
Ultimately, this could help drive prices down for all medications—even those that are lifesaving, such as HIV drugs. “If you’re ashamed of your drug prices, change your drug prices,” concluded Azar, “It’s that simple.”