A bipartisan amendment that would require drug prices to be transparent in television ads did not pass in the House of Representatives. The bill was cosponsored by Senators Richard “Dick” Durbin, D-Ill. and Charles “Chuck” Grassley, R-Iowa, and called for drug price list transparency in direct-to-consumer advertising. The amendment was part of a healthcare spending bill, and had supporters from both political parties. Supporters feel that it did not pass due to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry. However, opposing lawmakers stated they did not want to jeopardize passage of the larger health funding bill by voting on the amendment.


Senator Durbin took to Twitter to express his concerns, sharing:

The amendment @ChuckGrassley & I introduced on transparent drug pricing was supported by Democrats & Republicans, @AARP, @AmerMedicalAssn, 76% of Americans, Pres Trump & HHS. The only group who opposed it? Big Pharma.

Unanimously passing it today is a big win for consumers. pic.twitter.com/wPJZpaDfld

— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) August 23, 2018

His cosponsor Senator Grassley also shared thoughts on Twitter, stating:

Hearing rumors my bipartisan Durbin/Grassley legis to make drug companies list prices on TV ads is out of spending bill It is EMBARRASSING to bow to BIG PHARMA at expense of consumers Policy is supported by Pres Trump+AARP+Dem&GOP Sens If we can agree why are lobbyists fighting?

— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) September 13, 2018

Had the bill passed, drug manufacturers would have to disclose list prices in advertisements, allowing customers to know what prices they would be expected to pay, and giving them the opportunity to look for a lower price. Pharmacy Times notes that pharmaceutical industry officials did have issues with the amendment, as pricing would be confusing for customers working with insurance companies.

“The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spoke out against the proposal in its July comments to HHS on the administration’s drug pricing blueprint, saying, ‘FDA should not pursue any required disclose of list prices in direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. Such a requirement could confuse patients since the list price often does not represent what they would actually be required to pay.’

Exclusion of the amendment appears to counter public sentiment; a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 76% of the public supports the inclusion of list prices in television ads.”

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While this amendment did not pass, Fierce Pharma reports that the issue may not be completely off the table yet. The fight for drug pricing transparency has support across party lines, and has a strong advocate in Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“Alex Azar told lawmakers in June when asked about his authority to force pharma companies to put drug prices in ads that while he would ‘always appreciate Congressional backing to back me up on that,’ the information falls under ‘fair balance’ risk and benefit regulation.

‘I think it’s an important piece of information that consumers are entitled to along with cost and benefit. I think it’s part of the cost,’ he said, according to a C-SPAN video recording of those proceedings.

Azar also acknowledged that he would ‘undoubtedly be sued’ over such a measure, and he’s likely correct about that. Several pharma and ad industry groups or experts have protested the inclusion of drug prices in ads as overreaching, using the fair balance argument by the FDA and potentially unconstitutional in silencing of free commercial speech.”

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