Prescription drug prices will be required in TV ads, HHS secretary says

The Trump administration has finalized regulations requiring drug companies to disclose list prices of prescription drugs in television ads, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday.

Drug manufacturers' TV pitches will be required to include the list prices of medications costing more than $35 for a month's supply, Azar said. The disclosure requirement encompasses all brand name drugs covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

"What I say to the companies is if you think the cost of your drug will scare people from buying your drugs, then lower your prices," Azar said. "Transparency for American patients is here."

Azar said in a speech Wednesday that revealing the price could "empower patients with information before they walk into the doctor's office," where they could make a decision with their physicians about what medications are right for them.

"Patients have a right to know the price of the health care they receive, before they receive it," he said.

The 10 most commonly advertised drugs have prices ranging from $488 to $16,938 per month for a usual course of therapy, according to the latest government figures. Meanwhile, the government is hoping that patients armed with prices will start discussing affordability with their doctors, and that gradually it will put pressure on drugmakers to keep costs of brand-name drugs in check.

Pricing disclosure was part of a multilevel blueprint President Donald Trump announced last year to try to lower prescription drug costs.

The president celebrated the announcement on Twitter.

"Big announcement today: Drug companies have to come clean about their prices in TV ads," he tweeted. "Historic transparency for American patients is here. If drug companies are ashamed of those prices--lower them!"

Drug companies responded that adding prices to their commercials could unintentionally harm patients.

"We are concerned that the administration's rule requiring list prices in direct-to-consumer television advertising could be confusing for patients and may discourage them from seeking needed medical care," said the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main trade group.

But one major firm -- Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey -- has already started disclosing the cost of its blood thinner Xarelto in TV advertising.

"We're moving from a system where patients are left in the dark to where patients are put in the driver's seat," Azar said.

A recent poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that one in three Americans said they haven't taken medications as prescribed because of costs.

"If there's one thing I want you to remember about the action we took today, it's that requiring drug companies to level with American patients about their prices is about working toward a system where the patient--not the insurer, not the drug company, but the patient--is the one in control of your health care," Azar said.

Drug pricing details are expected to appear in text toward the end of commercials, when potential side effects are disclosed.

TV viewers should notice the change later this year, perhaps as early as the summer. The regulations will take effect 60 days after they're published in the Federal Register.

The requirement to disclose pricing requirement will not apply to print or radio ads for the foreseeable future.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported in Los Angeles.