Consumer Confidential: Drug companies say you'd just be 'confused' if they included prices in TV ads

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Two things became apparent this week after a federal judge blocked President Trump's requirement that drug prices be disclosed in TV commercials -- a move intended to shame pharmaceutical companies into being friendlier to patients.

First, the ruling highlighted the limitations of Trump's I-don't-need-no-stinking-Congress approach to policy. Once again a court has ruled that Trump exceeded his authority.

Second, pharmaceutical companies have no interest in being friendlier to patients.

Trump's price-disclosure rule was challenged in court by our friends at Merck, Eli Lilly and Amgen, who argued that the White House was overstepping its bounds and that the companies' 1st Amendment rights were being violated.

They also maintained that the requirement would "confuse" patients by forcing disclosure of a list price that may not be anywhere close to the price negotiated by insurers.

This means drug companies, despite their best efforts to be upstanding citizens, inadvertently would "mislead tens of millions of Americans about the price they would actually pay for important medicines that might improve their health or even save their lives," the companies claimed in their lawsuit.


Because as we all know, improving health and saving lives is what drug companies care about, not gouging patients with stratospheric prices that in no way reflect actual costs.

The court decision was one of two drug-related setbacks for Trump this week. He also dropped a proposal to prevent drugmakers from providing rebates to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers -- a move intended to lower prices for consumers but that probably would have raised Medicare premiums.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta didn't address the drug companies' 1st Amendment argument in his ruling. He focused instead on whether the Department of Health and Human Services has the authority to require price disclosure in TV ads.

He said neither the "text, structure nor context" of existing law "evince an intent by Congress to empower (administrative agencies) to issue a rule that compels drug manufacturers to disclose list prices."


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