J&J says putting drug prices in ads may scare away patients

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Credit: Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson, the world's most valuable health-care company, says U.S. patients may avoid buying their medications if they see the prices in television ads.

A proposal from the Trump administration forcing drugmakers to disclose the list price of any medication that costs more than $35 could discourage some from seeking treatment, executives from Johnson & Johnson said on an earnings conference call Tuesday.

List prices on TV ads "could be somewhat confusing and actually act as a deterrent to good, responsible health care and we just want to make sure that that doesn't play out that way," J&J Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk said.

Drugmakers have faced an outcry over soaring drug costs in recent years. Their main lobbying group earlier this week offered to disclose prices on company websites, where the drugmakers would have the chance to put the list prices into context and add information about out-of-pocket expenses or financial assistance.

The Trump administration has said that doesn't go far enough.

"Frankly, they don't want people seeing just how high those prices are and how high they go up every year," Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said during a Bloomberg TV interview on Tuesday. "We think disclosure of those list prices will create a downward pressure on the list prices of those drugs and will impact pharma behavior."

Opposition

J&J, whose drugs include the blockbuster arthritis treatment Remicade, supports transparency in drug pricing and the "spirit" of the Trump administration's plan, Wolk said on Bloomberg TV.

But just not showing list prices in TV ads.

"We just need to be careful of things such as list price alone," J&J's head of pharmaceuticals, Jennifer Taubert, said on the call. "We would worry about patients not going to their doctor to seek care, not going in for their appropriate treatments."

Azar compared price disclosure to the government's mandating sticker prices on cars decades ago. He also disputed the idea that requiring price disclosures would be unconstitutional, as the drug industry's lobby group in Washington has suggested.

"There simply can't be anything unconstitutional about requiring somebody to disclose the actual list price you're asking people to pay in the TV ad where you're advertising the product," Azar said.

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