Under the new rule (pdf), which was finalized by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in May, if a medicine’s list price is more than $35 a month, it would be obliged to show it in its commercials. The rule is considered the Trump administration’s major step to realize a blueprint to lower prescription costs.
The burden of high prescription drug prices affects millions of Americans. The new HHS blueprint for reform will address four of the biggest factors driving up the cost of prescription drugs. https://t.co/yWDscJCIUL pic.twitter.com/bsIJ0gauFU
— HHS.gov (@HHSGov) May 14, 2018
Drug prices declined in 2018, the first time in nearly half a century. During the first 19 months of my Administration, Americans saved $26 Billion on prescription drugs. Our policies to get cheaper generic drugs to market are working!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019
The rule was blocked hours before it was set to take effect when U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington decided that HHS lacks the legal authority to make drug manufacturers include the cost of their drugs in TV commercials.
In his 27-page ruling (pdf), the Obama appointee explained that he was not questioning the motives of HHS or the merit of the new rule, but simply that HHS don’t have authority from Congress.
“To be clear, the court does not question HHS’s motives in adopting the … disclosure rule,” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta wrote. “Nor does it take any view on the wisdom of requiring drug companies to disclose prices. That policy very well could be an effective tool in halting the rising cost of prescription drugs. But no matter how vexing the problem of spiraling drug costs may be, HHS cannot do more than what Congress has authorized.”
“The responsibility rests with Congress to act in the first instance,” Mehta wrote.
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said the administration was disappointed by the ruling and “will be working with the Department of Justice on next steps related to the litigation.” The administration could appeal the ruling, and it could also ask Congress to specifically authorize requiring drugmakers to disclose their prices. The Senate and the House are working on a package of bills that aim to reduce health care costs for insured patients, and drug prices are one of lawmakers’ biggest targets.
“It is outrageous that an Obama appointed judge sided with big PhRMA to keep high drug prices secret from the American people, leaving patients and families as the real victims,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement, reported Reuters.
PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, is a trade association for drug manufacturers. According to data from OpenSecrets, a watchdog website that tracks money in American politics, PhRMA has spent $27,989,250 in 2018 to claim the fourth place on the list of the country’s top spenders on lobbying.
It is outrageous that PhRMA is raking in BILLIONS of dollars while millions of Americans struggle to pay for the medications they depend on. Tell your Senators it’s time to put #PeopleOverProfits: https://t.co/eA8MqTGkLY pic.twitter.com/XMZ5QbH7kj
— AARP Advocates (@AARPadvocates) November 19, 2018
The lawsuit was brought by three major manufacturers: Merck, Eli Lilly, and Amgen. HHS Secretary Alex Azar was once a top executive of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly.
AARP Vice President Nancy LeaMond also called the ruling a disappointment. “Today’s ruling is a step backward in the battle against skyrocketing drug prices,” she said in a statement. “Americans should be trusted to evaluate drug price information and discuss any concerns with their health care providers.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.