Drugmakers sue Trump administration to halt advertising rule

Drew Armstrong
This April 26, 2017, file photo shows the Eli Lilly and Co. corporate headquarters in Indianapolis.

Some of the U.S.’s biggest pharmaceutical companies sued the Trump administration to try and block a rule that would force them to put the price of their drugs in television advertisements.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court Friday, Merck & Co., Eli Lilly & Co., Amgen Inc. and an advertising trade association claim that the Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t have the legal power to compel drugmakers to include prices in their ads, and that doing so would also mislead patients.

Many drugmakers, including Lilly and Amgen, have created websites to disclose prices, but argued that including them in ads could result in patients being scared off from getting treatment. The Trump administration has said that forcing drugmakers to disclose prices for drugs, which have risen sharply in recent years, could push down list prices.

“Not only does the rule raise serious freedom of speech concerns, it mandates an approach that fails to account for differences among insurance, treatments, and patients themselves, by requiring disclosure of list price,” Amgen said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit.

A court battle over the rule could hamper part of the administration’s blueprint to drive down drug prices with regulation. Congress so far has failed to pass any major legislation, despite drug prices being an issue on which Republicans and Democrats can find common ground.

“If the drug companies are embarrassed by their prices or afraid that the prices will scare patients away, they should lower them,” Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for HHS, said in an email.

The case is Merck v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 19-cv-1738, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).