- The Trump administration is fighting to keep alive its mandate requiring drugmakers list prices in television advertisements, appealing on Wednesday a July court decision that had blocked the requirement from taking effect.
- In that July ruling, Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found the administration lacked the proper authority to implement its plan, vacating the rule and granting the stay requested by appellants Amgen, Eli Lilly and Merck & Co.
- That decision was followed days later by the White House's decision to pull rebate reform plans it had once touted, a sequence which marked a setback to President Donald Trump's efforts to address rising drug prices. A third proposal, linking Medicare Part B reimbursement to drug prices paid abroad, remains in the works.
Drugmakers spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year hawking their products on TV, a controversial practice common in the U.S. but allowed in few other countries.
While it's up for debate whether requiring prices be displayed in those ads would spur drugmakers to lower them, success in implementing such a rule would be a highly visible example Trump could point to in 2020 campaigning.
Under the rule, which was set to take effect in early July, the list price of a 30-day supply would need to be included in any TV ads for a product costing more than $35 and covered by either Medicare and Medicaid.
"It's time for drug companies to level with American patients about the cost of their drugs: If the drug companies are embarrassed by their prices or afraid that the prices will scare patients away, they should lower them," said Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Caitlin Oakley in a statement.
In ruling against HHS last month, Judge Mehta concluded the agency had overstepped the authority granted to it by Congress.
"The policy very well could be an effective tool in halting the rising cost of prescription drugs," Mehta wrote in a memorandum opinion. "But no matter how vexing the problem of spiraling drug costs may be, HHS cannot do more than what Congress has authorized."
Metha left unconsidered a second argument made by drugmakers, that mandating disclosure of list prices constitutes "compelled speech" and therefore violates the First Amendment. In making their case, Merck, Amgen and Lilly were joined by the Association of National Advertisers.
HHS filed its appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Seeking to respond to transparency criticisms, members of the drugmaker trade group PhRMA have recently begun publishing price and cost information about their products on websites, an approach they argue includes the proper context for consumers to understand what they might actually pay.
Details on those websites, though, can vary and are usually not easy to find.
The Trump administration is also advancing other proposals to lower drug prices, including a proposal for limited importation of drugs from foreign countries as well as a scheme tying reimbursement in Medicare Part B to prices paid abroad.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said last week the agency is working "fast and furious" to finalize its plans on the latter. She declined, however, to set a specific timeline for its release.
PhRMA, which opposes the so-called International Pricing Index, is currently scheduled to meet with the White House next week.
The Trump administration isn't the only government body working on drug pricing. A bill from the Senate Finance Committee is set for full floor debate next month, which is also when a plan spearheaded by Speaker Nancy Pelosi's, D-Calif., office is expected to be released.