Requiring Prices in Drug Ads: Would It Do Any Good? Is It Even Legal?

Consumers’ perceptions could be skewed, she said. “If a consumer has a choice of five drugs and one is more expensive,” she added, “the consumer may think the more expensive drug is the better drug. That’s often how people make decisions. Trump’s intentions may actually backfire on him.”

Other experts said that giving list prices could be not just confusing but also ineffective.

David Mitchell, the founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, a nonprofit advocacy group, said: “It’s good to make information available to patients and consumers, but a disclosure requirement is not going to lower the prices of prescription drugs. The numbers could be so big — $10,000 a month — that at some point people could become inured to it.”

Dr. Blase N. Polite, a cancer specialist at the University of Chicago Medical Center, said he had no objection to the disclosure of price information, but also voiced doubts. “I don’t think it will change behavior,” he said. “To the individual consumer, the list price is often a fantasy number. When a doctor tells a cancer patient that this therapy potentially has a cure rate of 10 or 15 percent, people don’t care that the drug costs $120,000 because the costs are usually covered by third parties.”

But Dr. Debra Patt, a breast cancer specialist at Texas Oncology, a group of more than 400 doctors, was more optimistic. She said she would welcome the publication of prices in drug ads, provided the ads are factual and accurate. “It would drive costs down and drive quality up,” she said.

Asked how she felt when she saw ads by Pfizer for Ibrance, a treatment for breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, Dr. Patt said: “I’m excited. This drug is high-cost, but highly beneficial. I know dozens of patients with metastatic breast cancer who have received tremendous benefit from it.”

The list price for Ibrance is about $10,000 a month. But a message pops up on the screen near the end of TV ads for the drug. “If you’re eligible, you could pay as little as $0 a month,” says one such message.

The legal questions may also be a challenge.

John F. Kamp, an expert on medical marketing, said that a drug-price disclosure requirement, “as a form of compelled speech, could violate the First Amendment.”

But David C. Vladeck, a law professor at Georgetown University who has litigated many cases involving commercial speech, said: “The government has broad leeway to require disclosure of factual information that would be material to consumers. A requirement that you simply tell people what the price is would be constitutional.”


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