Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Grassley, Durbin Washington Post Op-ed: An essential step to give Americans a break at the pharmacy counter

Oct 25, 2018

Grassley, Durbin Washington Post Op-ed: An essential step to give Americans a break at the pharmacy counter

By Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Dick Durbin of Illinois

It’s not often you hear about a proposal to lower prescription drug costs that is supported by 76 percent of Americans as well as Democratic and Republican senators, AARP, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and the administration.

But you have it with our bipartisan legislation to require pharmaceutical companies to disclose list prices for their medications in direct-to-consumer television advertisements. Our measure passed the Senate unanimously in August, and we remain undeterred in providing American patients and taxpayers with the transparency they deserve for the ever-growing cost of prescription drugs.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently proposed regulations that would build upon our effort and require drug manufacturers to place price tags in these ads. We fully endorse this action and will do everything we can to help. This is an essential step to finally give Americans a break at the pharmacy counter.

Each year, the pharmaceutical industry spends more than $6 billion in direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising. Every hour on television, an average of 80 prescription drug ads are aired, and the ordinary American sees more than nine such ads every day. Studies show that these ads boost sales and profit margins by steering patients to the most expensive brand-name drug. Have you ever seen a Super Bowl ad for a low-cost generic drug?

These ads provide information regarding the indication for the drug, the side effects of the drug and even where to go if the drug is too expensive to obtain. The simple addition of the list price of the drug will provide patients with the necessary information to make their best health-care decision.

The addition of the list price to TV ads is the transparency needed to allow market forces to work. High prescription drug costs hurt patients by increasing their out-of-pocket spending as well as increasing insurance premiums. Taxpayers feel the pinch of high drug prices because of increased Medicare and Medicaid spending. It should not be surprising to know that the top 20 most advertised drugs on television today cost Medicare and Medicaid a combined $22 billion in 2016.

The pharmaceutical industry is busy at work claiming the HHS price disclosure requirement may confuse Americans. We have more faith in American patients and the health-care providers who care for them. We believe it is important to remember several key points. First, manufacturers voluntarily choose to promote their drugs to patients over the airwaves; they are not required to do so. Second, we recognize that while patients often pay different prices for the same prescription, there needs to be common understanding on prices to compare products. We agree with HHS that disclosing the list price makes sense because it is an objective and well-understood point within the supply chain, and is at the sole discretion of manufacturers to set and adjust. Third, it is important to keep in mind that list prices directly impact the amount paid by patients, such as those in high-deductible health plans, if a drug is not on a formulary or — even more deceptively — through higher insurance premiums because of ever-increasing drug prices.

A voluntary action by pharmaceutical companies is no substitute for price disclosure directly in ads. That is why we support HHS in this effort.

Our bipartisan policy will boost competition and help Americans struggling with outrageously high and skyrocketing drug costs. We strongly support the proposed regulation to bring transparency to prescription drug advertising as one of many necessary strategies to lower prescription drug costs. It is well-past time for drug manufacturers to level with the American public, and we applaud Secretary Azar for capitalizing on our legislative efforts to implement this common-sense policy.

Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat, represents Illinois in the U.S. Senate. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, represents Iowa in the U.S. Senate.