Drugmakers don’t want to call attention to the excessive amount they’re charging U.S. consumers for their products.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new rule that would require pharmaceutical companies to list the retail prices of most prescription drugs in their television advertisements; the new policy says nothing about print, radio or digital ads. Amgen, Eli Lilly and Merck field a lawsuit June 14 against the federal agency.
“The three drugmakers called the rules ‘entirely unnecessary, bad for patients and detrimental to health care,’ as well as a violation of the companies’ free speech rights. The lawsuit claims that the list price required to be disclosed in advertisements is not meaningful because it doesn’t take into account discounts, insurance coverage, deductibles and co-payments that affect what patients actually pay for their drugs,” according to a Washington Post story published June 15 by the Watertown Daily Times. “Direct-to-consumer prescription advertising exploded across the airwaves in the late 1990s and is often blamed by consumer advocates as painting an excessively rosy picture of drugs’ benefits while stoking demand for costly treatments. The Trump administration last year seized on the ads to battle rising costs of medicine. Among the individual defendants named is HHS Secretary Alex Azar, the former president of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations and the architect of the new rules. The requirement, scheduled to take effect this summer, is needed to force an honest accounting of drug prices that help fuel inflation, Azar said last month when he unveiled the rule.
“List prices directly affect a small percentage of consumers, especially those who have no insurance and people whose prescription co-payments are based on a percentage of the cost,” the article reported. “Drug manufacturers contend disclosing high list prices will mislead people who have insurance, which they said will be bad in the long run for health care costs.”
Well, it’s nice to know that drugmakers are so concerned about how their customers could potentially spend more money than they need to! Where is this sentiment when they jack the prices of prescription drugs to ridiculous levels?
On June 16, the Times published another story from the Washington Post focusing on people from Minnesota who travel to Canada so they can purchase insulin at a reasonable price. They can buy the drug there without a prescription for about one-tenth of what they would pay for the same amount here in the United States. A supply of insulin cost these individuals about $1,200; they would have to fork over $12,000 on this side of the border.
“More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. About 7.5 million, including 1.5 million with Type 1 diabetes, rely on insulin,” the Post article reported. “Between 2012 and 2016, the cost of insulin for treating Type 1 diabetes nearly doubled, according to the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute. Some pharmaceutical companies, under pressure from U.S. lawmakers, have tried to reduce the cost for some patients. But many who rely on insulin still struggle. Large numbers resort to rationing — a dangerous and sometimes deadly practice.”
Pharmaceutical companies that care about their customers need to find a way to make prescription drugs more affordable. This new federal rule is a good way to let people know how high prices have grown.
If drugmakers are worried about the potential confusion among those with insurance, here’s an easy fix. Along with listing the retail prices for drugs in TV ads, they should remind consumers to see if their insurance plans have discounts or co-payments. Full disclosure in this situation is the best medicine.