- Drugmaker members of the trade lobby PhRMA will soon voluntarily include information in direct-to-consumer television advertisements that points consumers to where they can find out more about the cost of medicines, including list prices.
- But the pharmaceutical companies that make up the powerful industry group won't include list prices in TV ads themselves, resisting a proposal by the Trump administration to highlight drug costs upfront in marketing campaigns.
- PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl said in a call with reporters Monday that such an approach could mislead consumers about what they actually would pay out of pocket, and indicated any requirement proposed by the administration would raise legal questions. Ubl declined to say whether PhRMA would sue to stop any regulatory action that might be issued in the future.
In adopting new voluntary principles, PhRMA is making a concession to calls from the White House and lawmakers to be more upfront with drug prices. But its cooperation only goes so far, as the trade group will continue to resist placing prices in ads directly.
"Our industry is taking a new approach to how we communicate about our medicines, making it easier for patients to access information about their medicine cost," said Ubl on Monday's call.
While Ubl described the new principles as a major shift, it may not placate a White House that has made this issue a central part of its drug pricing blueprint.
"Our vision for a new, more transparent drug-pricing system does not rely on voluntary action," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, in an emailed statement that came out shortly after the new program was announced.
"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," he added.
Azar is scheduled to give a major speech on the Trump administration's efforts around prescription drug costs later today. Reports have indicated it could address requiring list prices in drug advertisements.
A proposed rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services entitled " Regulation to Require Drug Pricing Transparency" — that some have speculated could be a vehicle for such a regulation — has been under review at the Office of Management and Budget for about two months.
If the Trump administration were to mandate inclusion of list prices in drug ads, it would likely invite a legal challenge. PhRMA has indicated through comments filed in response to the president’s drug pricing blueprint that a requirement could trigger First Amendment legal issues.
The new principles announced by PhRMA on Monday were adopted by the group’s board of directors in early October. All current members of the trade group have committed to updating their DTC advertising.
Beginning on April 15, 2019, all TV ads that mention a drug product by name will include some direction to consumers on where they can go to find out more information on costs, including list prices and what they might pay out of pocket.
This information could be placed on a company website, for instance, PhRMA said. Most companies already have websites to support the launch of their drug and some drugmakers already highlight patient assistance programs through these channels.
PhRMA argues that list prices don’t reflect what consumers actually pay, nor do they include the at times substantial rebates provided by drugmakers to insurers. Differences in insurance, copays and deductibles could also impact what a drug costs any particular patient.
DTC marketing is also big business for pharma. Through the first nine months of 2018, the drug industry spend more than $2.8 billion on television advertisements, according to data from the analytics firm iSpot.tv.
Much of that spend was focused on products in large, competitive markets like diabetes, psoriasis and arthritis. AbbVie's Humira (adalimumab), for example, frequently features as among the most heavily advertised drugs on TV.
Print advertisements, with fuller disclosures of treatment risk, are another favorite medium for pharma.