Business & Tech

Drugmaker won’t put price in tv ads, but patients can look it up

Drugmaker Eli Lilly is posting price information online for drugs advertised on TV, starting Tuesday in ads for Trulicity, a diabetes drug, that don’t give the price but direct viewers to a website.
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
Drugmaker Eli Lilly is posting price information online for drugs advertised on TV, starting Tuesday in ads for Trulicity, a diabetes drug, that don’t give the price but direct viewers to a website.

Eli Lilly & Co. won’t put the price of its prescription drugs in television ads, as the Trump administration has called for pharmaceutical companies to do, but will instead offer patients a link to a website with information about prescription costs.

Starting Tuesday, the Indianapolis-based maker of popular diabetes treatments started airing television ads touting the website lillypricinginfo.com, along with a toll-free telephone number. The site will have information about drug list prices, patient assistance programs, and average patient cost for medicine.

The first ad will be for the injectable diabetes drug Trulicity, which costs $730 for a month’s supply. Trulicity had estimated sales of $3.19 billion last year, making it the company’s biggest blockbuster.

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As part of a push to lower drug costs for Americans, the Trump administration has proposed requiring drugmakers to put the list price of their products in advertisements. That would, the administration has said, help pressure them into lowering the list prices that can factor into co-pays and other cost-sharing by some patients.

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“Consumers would have much more balanced information, and companies would have a very different set of incentives for setting their prices,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said last year, touting the proposal.

Lilly, along with the industry’s lobby group in Washington, have disagreed with that approach.

“We’re not ruling that out long term,” Lilly chief executive Dave Ricks said Monday on the sidelines of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. “This is a first step. We think it’s the right first step and we’ll study that question and perhaps that could be in the mix in the future.”

Ricks said the company is seeking more data about how price transparency impacts patients’ behavior and that ultimately, he doesn’t want to see people quitting treatments as a result of the price disclosure.

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After the White House proposed drug companies disclose prices in ads, the lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, said such a requirement could be a violation of the First Amendment because of restrictions on “compelled speech.”

List prices are the cost of drugs before accounting for rebates and insurance co-pays, and drugmakers have said they don’t necessarily reflect what people actually pay. Critics of the industry say list prices are relevant because many Americans have co-insurance and high-deductible plans that force them to shoulder a significant portion of a drug’s price.

Lilly plans to expand the program to the psoriasis drug Taltz and breast cancer drug Verzenio by the end of February. Over the next few months, the company will offer pricing disclosures on its site for the rest of its drugs. Lilly will solicit feedback from the Trulicity ads to inform future pricing initiatives and disclosures.

President Trump has been especially vocal about drug pricing, even in recent days. “Drug makers and companies are not living up to their commitments on pricing. Not being fair to the consumer, or to our Country!,” he tweeted over the weekend.