A federal judge ruled on Monday that the Trump administration cannot force pharmaceutical companies to disclose the list price of their drugs in television ads, dealing a blow to one of the president’s most visible efforts to pressure drug companies to lower their prices.
Judge Amit P. Mehta, of the United States District Court in the District of Columbia, ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services exceeded its regulatory authority by seeking to require all drugmakers to include in their television commercials the list price of any drug that costs more than $35 a month. The rule was to take effect this week.
The effort to include more transparency in drug pricing has been a cornerstone of the president’s efforts to tap into the public’s outrage over the rising costs of prescription drugs. Last week, he said he would be issuing an executive order on drug pricing, but the breadth of the order remained unclear.
Merck, Eli Lilly and Amgen had sued to block the rule in June, arguing that forcing companies to disclose their list prices was beyond the reach of the federal government as well as a violation of the First Amendment. The companies also said that many patients have health insurance that lowers their out-of-pocket costs, and seeing the higher list price might lead them to stop taking drugs they needed.
The Trump administration, including Secretary Alex M. Azar II of health and human services, had argued that requiring such disclosure could shame the drugmakers into lowering their prices.
Judge Mehta did not delve into whether the proposed rule violated the First Amendment. He relied instead on whether the Department of Health and Human Services had overstepped its bounds.
While saying the court did not question the agency’s motives, he wrote: “Nor does it take any view on the wisdom of requiring drug companies to disclose prices. 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, H.H.S. cannot do more than what Congress has authorized. The responsibility rests with Congress to act in the first instance.”