May 23,2019

Grassley, Durbin Op-ed: Shed Light on Drug Advertisements

Shed Light on Drug Advertisements

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


Chances are that in the last 24 hours, you’ve seen approximately nine advertisements for prescription drugs on television. That’s no mistake.


Each year, pharmaceutical companies spend more than $6 billion to flood our airwaves with drug ads. Every hour on television, an average of 80 prescription drug ads are aired — resulting in the average American seeing nine each day. Why do you see so many ads for prescription drugs? Because it works. Patients are more likely to ask their doctor for a specific drug when they have seen ads for it — whether they need it or not, or when a generic is available instead. The result is that the 20 most-advertised drugs on television cost taxpayers more than $24 billion in 2017.


With billions in targeted spending, patients are bombarded with information about the benefits of the drug as well as side effects, but kept in the dark on a crucial factor: price. Most countries have banned direct-to-consumer drug advertising. New Zealand and the United States are the only two countries that allow this practice.


If drug makers choose to advertise their medications, they should tell the whole story and include pricing information. Not only will this empower patients to make informed choices, such as whether a less expensive generic may be available, but this will also force pharmaceutical companies to rethink their pricing strategies.


Pharmaceutical companies will argue that this basic price disclosure will cause confusion because some patients pay different amounts. We have more faith in patients. The price posted in the ad is set by the drug company. We invite them to lower it if they aren’t comfortable sharing it with the public.


Faith in American patients to be able to choose what is best for them is why we teamed up on this issue last year. We wrote legislation to require price tags in prescription drug advertisements, which unanimously passed in the Senate. Unfortunately, that legislation did not pass the House. Thankfully, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar decided to join our bipartisan effort and advance it through regulation.


This month, HHS used its existing authority to finalize these rules, giving Americans some much-needed transparency when it comes to drug pricing. And we applauded this action. Last week, we introduced legislation to codify this regulation into law and ensure its long-term implementation.  This is a huge victory for health care consumers. Requiring pharmaceutical companies to include the price of the drugs in television advertisements will benefit consumers as well as spur competition, which will ultimately help lower the price of prescription drugs.


Our legislation is supported by Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives. It also has the support of the AARP, American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, insurers, 88 percent of Americans and the Trump administration.


Moving forward on this commonsense legislation is a no-brainer. It’s about time Iowans, Illinoisans, and Americans across the country catch a break when it comes to the sky-high cost of prescription drugs. Our bipartisan direct-to-consumer price disclosure effort won’t solve everything, but it’s an important step. Patients deserve transparency and we will continue our legislative work to lower drug spending and see this rule implemented.