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Consumer Groups Have Cautious Praise for Feds' Proposal on Drug Ads

By some estimates, Americans spent $450 billion on prescription drugs in 2016. (Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile)
By some estimates, Americans spent $450 billion on prescription drugs in 2016. (Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile)
October 17, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Consumer groups are praising a proposal by the Trump administration to require drug companies to put prices in many of their television advertisements, but some worry it's only a pre-election perk designed to attract voters - one that could be dropped after the midterms.

The rule, announced by federal health regulators, would apply to drugs offered through Medicare or Medicaid that cost more than $35 per month, or for a course of treatment.

If finalized, said Frederick Isasi, executive director of the nonprofit Families USA, the rule could show people the real cost of some well-known prescription drugs.

"This is an important step forward, because it gives consumers a sense of the magnitude of the drug," he said. "Is this a drug that is going to cost them $30 a month, $300 a month, $3,000 a month, $30,000 or more? Helping the American public understand the exorbitant prices being charged by drug companies."

The plan is opposed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group that proposed instead to put up a website in spring that discloses drug list prices and co-payments.

Isasi said he'd like to see the administration actually negotiate lower prices for consumers rather than hoping transparency will shame drug makers into charging less. He added that high drug prices affect everyone - even those who don't take any medications.

"For people who may not use pharmaceuticals," he said, "what they don't realize is, if there's a $3,000-a-month drug that's being used by patients within their insurance plan, then the cost of that drug gets 'baked into' everyone's premiums."

According to the health-care research group Quintiles IMS Institute, the United States spent $450 billion on prescription drugs in 2016 before rebates. If the administration finalizes the rule, pharmaceutical trade groups say they won't rule out litigation.

The proposal is online at federalregister.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA