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Drugmakers Protest Rule Ordering Prices To Be Shown In TV Ads


How much will consumers learn from a new rule for prescription drug ads? The Trump administration is imposing the requirement. It says that when drugmakers tell you their product's benefits and side effects in an advertisement, they must also disclose the official sticker price. Nick Florko is the Washington correspondent for STAT News, which covers health care.

Good morning.

NICHOLAS FLORKO: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the goal here?

FLORKO: Well, the goal is to get down the price of prescription drugs. And by giving consumers more information, the Trump administration thinks they'll be able to do that.

INSKEEP: Oh, the idea is to engage the power of the consumer to push for lower prices, in effect.

FLORKO: That's the theory.

INSKEEP: So then the ad will say this drug costs - what will it say exactly? What will that language be?

FLORKO: So basically it has to say, you know, our sticker price is this amount. If you have insurance, that cost may vary.

INSKEEP: OK. But that's a good point. Do people actually pay that official sticker price in most cases?

FLORKO: So that's the drug industry's argument against this proposal. They say that because of insurance coverage, hardly anyone pays the price the Trump administration is forcing these drug makers to include in their ads. That price is often called the list price or the sticker price, as we said. Drugmakers argue that including that price would scare consumers off from even going to their doctor and asking about a drug because they'd see a sky-high list price, and they would think - I can't afford that; I'm not going to go to the doctor.

INSKEEP: Well, now that's interesting because that could be bad for someone's health. But is that actually what the government may want in some cases - for a consumer to make an informed decision that this drug just seems really pricey for the benefits alleged with it?

FLORKO: So I don't think the Trump administration would go that far. They say that this is the start of a conversation between a consumer and their doctor about a drug. They really want to try to get drugmakers to lower their prices. They've, countless times now, sort of shamed drug companies and said - if you're ashamed of your price, if you don't want to put it in your ad, lower the price.

INSKEEP: And we should note that this is only for somewhat more expensive drugs - more than $35 per month. That's who the rule - that's what the drugs that the rule applies to. Hasn't one company, though, already gone ahead and just done this?

FLORKO: Yes. So Johnson & Johnson has agreed to include their sticker prices in their ads. It's a really smart PR move, frankly. Like I said, the Trump administration has been eager to shame drug companies for their lack of enthusiasm around this proposal. They've praised JNJ at every turn. And in an era where, you know, you are very worried about Trump's tweets and what they say about you, this is really good press.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking this through, though. If I see this momentary TV ad or whatever, I'm going to get the price of one drug; I may not learn the prices of competing drugs. So I understand a little bit of the insurance industry's argument. But if the industry is going to say it's a bad idea to disclose prices this way; it's just confusing to people - what's a better way? What does the industry say is the way that consumers could get the information that they would need to make an informed decision?

FLORKO: So they have come up with a really crafty solution. So right now drugmakers have said we're not going to comply with this. We're going to do something else. We're going to include a weblink in our ads that says if you are curious about price, go here. And they argue that because they have that, they have the ability to then include a lot more context. So when you go to these websites, for example, it'll say I have Medicare, I have commercial insurance, I'm uninsured. And it'll give you a breakdown of what the prices are for each one. So...

INSKEEP: What the price would be for me in that specific situation.


INSKEEP: But you said that they're not going to comply. Do they have the power not to comply? Is this going to the courts?

FLORKO: So it probably will go to the courts. The industry has made pretty much every signal they can that they're going to sue over this proposal. They say that it violates their First Amendment rights.

INSKEEP: Nick Florko of STAT News, thanks so much.

FLORKO: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.