WASHINGTON — Dozens of pharmaceutical companies have pledged that their upcoming television advertisements will direct viewers to more information about how much a drug might cost, such as a page on a company website, PhRMA president Steven Ubl announced Monday.

The trade group is not requiring its members to include actual list prices in their advertisements, a policy idea that Trump administration officials first floated in May.

“Our member companies’ [direct-to-consumer] TV advertisements will soon direct patients to information about medicine cost to help them make more informed health care decisions,” Ubl said. He added that “this will include the list price of the medicines, as well as an estimate or range of potential out-of-pocket costs and available patient assistance.”

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The announcement appears to be an effort to preempt the Trump administration’s plans to force drug companies to include specific price information directly in their advertisements. HHS Secretary Alex Azar is scheduled to deliver a speech at 4 p.m. Monday that will reportedly focus on the same policy idea.

It is clearly not enough for Azar. Less than half an hour after PhRMA publicly announced the policy, Azar said “voluntary action” wouldn’t be sufficient.

“The drug industry remains resistant to providing real transparency around their prices, including the sky-high list prices that many patients pay,” Azar said in a statement. “So while the pharmaceutical industry’s action today is a small step in the right direction, we will go further and continue to implement the President’s blueprint to deliver new transparency and put American patients first.”

The range of prices companies will disclose could run anywhere from $0 to an amount larger than the list price of the drug. PhRMA spokesman Robert Zirkelbach said that companies themselves will decide specifically what numbers to include, meaning that information on one drug company’s website might not be comparable to another’s. For example, companies with different dosages of the same drug might decide to include the list price of one dosage, or all the dosages.

“For antitrust reasons, we’re not specifying [that] you have to put this exact data point in this exact place for this exact thing,” Zirkelbach told STAT.

The list price of a drug is set by the pharmaceutical company and impacts how much everyone else pays, from the insurer to the pharmacy to the patient. It is generally publicly available information. But often, it is not exactly the amount of money a patient pays for a drug.

Insurers negotiate different discounts off the list price for their patients. A patient’s deductible can also impact how much he or she will pay for a particular drug. Patients without insurance or with a high deductible pay the full price — unless the pharmacy or drug company has a special deal that lowers the price.

The agreement will take effect on April 15, 2019, but Ubl said that companies might start making information available sooner.

PhRMA has sharply criticized the administration’s initial policy idea since it was initially announced, and they reiterated the concerns Monday.

“PhRMA remains concerned that just including list prices in these advertisements is not sufficient and could discourage patients from seeking needed medical care,” the organization wrote in a press release. “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.”

PhRMA’s general counsel, James Stansel, said Monday that any rule the administration might issue requiring cost information to be disclosed would violate the First Amendment.

Ubl said that the group has “had initial dialogue,” with the Food and Drug Administration, which is partly responsible for regulating direct-to-consumer drug advertising.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told STAT in May that an FDA working group would consider what information they might require companies to include in advertisements. On Monday, an FDA spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on what had transpired since then.

NOTE: This story originally stated that PhRMA spokesperson Robert Zirkelbach said that individual companies will determine what the “list price” means. He did say that during a call with reporters. After the story was published, he clarified that the “list price” refers to the “wholesale acquisition cost,” the industry-standard publicly reported price.

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  • The problem here is the advertising and marketing. It was illegal for a reason. American are dying and being exploited financially, because of Industry Advertising. The so called “Opiate Epidemic” should ave been a heads up, but they used that to market dangerous or useless drugs, ineffective treatments, and pseudo science. It is clear the adverting, and subsequent paying off of public officials was the cause. Instead of going after the culprits, they are now denying treatment to people with pain, another form of healthcare rationing, or a new form of Death Squads.
    They came up with this stupid idea, in order to please industry insiders and profiteers. These corporations have too much power, and money, extracted from Americans. They have undermined the system, removed regulations, distorted our media, and destroyed lives. No one spoke up when Medicare was not “allowed” to negotiate drug prices, leading to an exponential jump in drug prices.

  • If the issue of advertising drugs to the public was not so serious, it could be a skit at Saturday Night Live. Why do government officials and the media persist in being so pathetically oblivious to the real facts here?

    1) Instead of nitpicking around the corners, the FDA should simply revoke its bad decision of 1997 allowing the inappropriate advertising of prescription drugs, which is nothing more than an advertising maneuver to “push” demand for the branded product; outspending to diminish the generic equivalent.

    2) Why does anybody seriously believe the public is competent to seek prescriptions for these drugs that require an intensive clinical education and experience? Most people cannot competently pick a diarrhea medication.

    3) Also, why should Big Pharma be allowed to write-off this advertising on taxes while increasing the cost of pharmaceuticals to patients and their insurance?

    4) Any approach to pricing will most likely be no different than the auto industry’s MSRP-the sticker posted on new autos for sale. However, the MSRP does not indicate what that dealer actually purchased the auto for; nor any rebates offered to the dealer by the manufacturer.

    5) If Big Pharma is mistakenly allowed to continue pushing demand for their products through advertising, than pricing should detail:

    -R&D cost
    -Lobbying and advertising cost
    -Discounts and rebates provided to PBM; insurance carrier
    -Price product sold to the EU, Switzerland, Canada, UK, and Australia (ideally percent profit allowed by those countries)

    Remember, this is the same industry, in cahoots with its distributors, that created and nurtured the opioid crisis, by advertising to the public to push demand to providers, as if its was merely a brand of candy.

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