Commentary: It’s time for Congress to authorize price transparency for prescription drugs

July 11, 2019

This week, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta derailed an attempt to fight the high cost of prescription drugs when he blocked a Trump administration regulation that would require pharmaceutical companies to include the price of a drug when it is advertised on TV. As a longtime proponent of efforts to require price transparency in health care, I was very disappointed.

The first bill I introduced after I was first elected to Congress was the Hospital Price Reporting and Disclosure Act in 2006. This legislation was inspired by the shock I felt when I saw the billed prices from my hospital stay following a bike accident. Hospitals fought back hard on my bill just as the drugmakers did in the recent court case that stopped the Department of Health and Human Services’ drug price transparency regulation. They clearly believe they have something to be concerned about when it comes to price transparency. I agree.

While transparency is only one small weapon in the fight against the high cost of health care, I believe one way of helping control costs is to allow patients to see prices just as we do for any other service we buy. Not only can transparency help patients comparison-shop in the cases in which that is possible, but also it can shame providers into lowering their prices. This is probably why providers continue to fight these efforts.

In his ruling on the HHS regulation, Judge Mehta wrote, “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.”

So now is the time for Congress to authorize price transparency for prescription drugs. That is why on Wednesday, I joined on as a co-sponsor of HR 3327, the Drug Price Transparency Act for Medicare Patients, introduced in June by my colleague Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla. This bipartisan bill provides statutory authority to require television ads for prescription drugs that cost over $35 to include the list price of a 30-day supply. It would go into effect immediately. The bill follows the regulation set forth by the Trump administration, and though there are many of the president’s policies I disagree with, this is not one of them.

Our nation’s prescription drug market is a runaway train without a conductor. Drug manufacturers like Merck, Eli Lilly and Amgen, which filed the lawsuit to block the price transparency regulation, are free to charge what they want for their products with little oversight. It’s no wonder they would resist having their prices listed in their ubiquitous television ads. Meanwhile, patients and American taxpayers are stuck paying the exorbitant bills, and struggling to do so.

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in the past year, 24 percent of Americans didn’t fill a prescription because of the high cost.

Take the cost of insulin, for example, which as a Type 1 diabetic I am intimately familiar with. Uninsured diabetes patients in my district who purchase a monthly supply of Lantus Solostar — a popular brand of insulin — pay an average discounted price of $286, as compared with $33 in Australia, $51 in the United Kingdom and $70 in Canada. It’s not much different for patients covered under Medicare.

It’s time we apply the same logic to prescription drugs as we do to every other good and service we purchase. It’s not the only answer to the high cost of health care, but it is a commonsense start. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get the Drug Price Transparency Act passed into law.

Dan Lipinski, a Democrat, is the U.S. representative for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.

This article appeared in the Chicago Tribune. Read more here.