June 13, 2018 – At a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions hearing on drug pricing held yesterday, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told the committee that it is his belief that “we have the authority to require list price disclosure in TV ads,” as proposed in the Trump administration blueprint for lowering drug prices.
However, Azar stated that “we would also welcome Congress acting there to ensure that our statutory authority is shored up, as big pharma will most certainly challenge us in that effort and in that work.” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) further queried Azar about whether he needed Congress to provide this authority, to which he replied that he “would always appreciate congressional authority to back me up on that, because I will undoubtedly be sued.”
Indeed, Azar noted that he was concurrently working with members of Congress on this, but added that he believes the authority already exists, “as part of the fair balance in ads that I think is an important piece of information that consumers are entitled to along with cost and benefit.” In his view, “I think it [list price] is part of the cost.”
“It’s a profound disappointment that Azar believes that the FDA has the authority to impose a price disclosure in consumer ads,” said Coalition for Healthcare Communication Executive Director John Kamp. “That’s a very aggressive position for a careful constitutional law expert. Regardless, the Coalition will continue its efforts to avoid having this unfortunate proposal enacted.”
Hassan also raised the issue of what she called the “larger problem” – “the fact that we have direct-to-consumer [DTC] ads to begin with, and that we give companies a big tax break for them, even though they increase costs that patients have to pay.
“I would encourage you … to go even further on the [DTC] issue and work with Congress on ending these outrageous tax breaks and frankly getting rid of these ads altogether,” she said.