WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin wants to force drug companies to list the cost of prescription medications in their consumer advertisements.
The Illinois Democrat said during a virtual news conference Friday he hopes the move will shame drug makers to reduce prices, adding consumers find the prices “baffling” and that they drive up Medicare costs for everyone.
“It would be one thing to say, ‘I want to buy an expensive car, let me buy an expensive car and don’t get in my face,’ but we’ve got Medicare and the cost of the overall program and the support of American taxpayers subsidizing these drug costs that are going through the roof,” Durbin said.
Durbin has cosponsored the Drug-price Transparency for Competition (DTC) Act with Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Angus King, I-Maine.
A government report notes drug makers spent $6 billion annually from 2016 to 2018 marketing their products. Nearly all of that spending was on more expensive, brand-name drugs. Some of them cost thousands of dollars per month.
Durbin noted Humara spent $500 million on direct-to-consumer marketing for its arthritis and other medications in 2018. He said those drugs added $2.4 billion to the Medicare program. Prescriptions for those medications, Durbin said, reached $5,500 per month.
“If they had to disclose in the ad how much it would cost to take a prescription of Humara, it might have changed people’s minds about asking for them,” Durbin said.
A.J. Wilhelmi, president of the Illinois Hospital Association, said these advertisements increased demand for new and costlier medications when earlier versions of a generic drug may be just as effective. He said that drives up health care costs.
“Unchecked drug price increases are not sustainable, and they pose a serious economic threat to the patients and communities that our hospitals serve,” Wilhelmi said.
A recent survey released by AARP Illinois shows one-fifths of adults over 50 couldn’t fill a prescription in the last two years because of the cost.
“Americans are sick and tired of paying the highest prices in the world for their prescription drugs and our members want and expect action,” said AARP Illinois President Rosanna Márquez.
The U.S. Senate passed a similar price transparency bill in 2018, but it did not advance in the House.
On another matter, Durbin said Senate Republicans face a “moment of truth” on infrastructure.
The Senate is expected to take up an infrastructure bill later this month. A plan for traditional infrastructure appeared to have bipartisan support. Now, some conservative groups are pushing back against an increase in the IRS budget to boost tax collections to help foot the bill.
Durbin said Democrats should be prepared to go without any Republican support and try to pass a comprehensive plan with a simple majority.
“Many senators are asking the Democrats voting on that bill whether they are going to be on board for reconciliation, the next stage in the process,” Durbin said. “I hope the answer is yes. If so, we can pass both measures and that is the outcome I’d like to see.”
A second bill includes funding for so-called “social infrastructure” — for such things like childcare and public housing. There has been no GOP support for that plan.
Democrats also would need support from all 50 of its members to avoid the filibuster through reconciliation.