In the two decades since they became legal in the United States, TV commercials for prescription drugs have become both inescapable(www.nytimes.com) and leisurely. Ads average about a minute apiece now,(www.annfammed.org) allowing for the often-parodied but legally mandated disclosure of possible side effects.
Yet these ads have always left out a key bit of consumer information: drug prices.
That will change if a proposed federal rule(www.govinfo.gov) -- part of HHS Secretary Alex Azar's plan to bring down the cost of prescription drugs(www.hhs.gov) -- takes effect.
"The AAFP wholeheartedly supports the policy objective of ensuring beneficiaries are provided with relevant information about the costs of prescription drugs and biological products," the Academy wrote in a Dec. 12 letter(2 page PDF) to Azar in support of the proposed rule, which CMS published in the Oct. 18 Federal Register.
CMS' proposed rule would amend the Medicare Parts A, B, C and D and Medicaid programs to require direct-to-consumer (DTC) television advertisements of prescription drugs and biological products to include the products' list price.
"The inclusion of the list price in DTC advertisements will allow patients to make more informed decisions that minimize their out-of-pocket costs and total expenditures borne by Medicare and Medicaid," said the letter, which was signed by AAFP Board Chair Michael Munger, M.D., of Overland Park, Kan.
The letter expressed conditional support for commercials as a means of providing "general health information to the public," as long as such advertisements are properly regulated and labeled and patients are provided with "clear and accurate cost information on products, including compounded medications."
The proposed rule includes wording for that cost information, which would state the price of either a 30-day supply or typical course of treatment: "The list price for a [30-day supply of] [typical course of treatment with] [name of prescription drug or biological product] is [insert list price]. If you have health insurance that covers drugs, your cost may be different."
The AAFP's letter echoed advice on lowering drug prices that the Academy provided to HHS earlier this year.
"Transparency policies do not directly lower drug costs but may provide more data that could help federal agencies and policymakers increase accountability and would allow physicians and patients to make more informed treatment choices," the Academy told Azar in a July 16 letter.(6 page PDF) "The AAFP supports transparency and stronger regulatory enforcement to lower the cost of prescription drugs."
In an Oct. 15 speech at the National Academy of Medicine announcing the proposed rule, Azar touted it and other drug-pricing changes the administration wants as ways to control patients' out-of-pocket costs and reduce unnecessary Medicare and Medicaid spending. The same day, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying group, took issue with the call to require prices in DTC ads(www.phrma.org) but said drugmakers would next year begin voluntarily directing commercial viewers to detailed pricing information elsewhere.
In its letter, the AAFP indicated that the proposed rule would be a step toward the overall greater transparency the U.S. health system needs.
Related AAFP News Coverage
Fresh Perspectives blog: Let's Get Drug Pricing Under Control