It looks like pharmacy gag clauses are going the way of dinosaurs. Following the lead of the Senate, the House Tuesday passed by voice vote two bills banning the insurance gag clauses that have kept pharmacists from letting patients know that paying out of pocket might be cheaper than their copay for a prescription drug.
All that's needed now is President Donald Trump's signature on S. 2553 and S. 2554 for the gag clauses to become extinct. Given Trump's stance on drug prices and the commonsense approach of the legislation, his signature is expected.
Last week, the Senate voted 98-2 to pass the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act, S. 2554, to prevent health insurance issuers and group health plans from imposing the gag clauses on pharmacists. A few weeks earlier, the Senate had passed a related bill banning gag clauses in Medicare plans. (See BioWorld, Sept. 19, 2018.)
In addition to freeing pharmacists to openly discuss cheaper payment options with their customers, the legislation will require biologic and biosimilar companies to report patent settlement deals to the FTC to ensure there are no antitrust violations such as unwarranted pay-for-delay provisions. Makers of brand and generic small-molecule drugs are already subject to that reporting requirement.
The bills had bipartisan support and both Republicans and Democrats agreed that removing the gag clauses is just a baby step in bringing down prescription drug prices. Patients can now know the lowest price, but "we need to find out about the highest price," Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said before the vote. He compared the ban and high drug prices with a lightning bug and lightning.
"That this bill counts as progress shows how far we've got to go," he said, as he urged the next Congress to do far more to bring down drug prices. He's already introduced a bill to allow direct Medicare price negotiations.
Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), one of the sponsors of the legislation, assured the Democrats in the room that the ban on gag clauses is only the beginning of congressional action to make drug prices more affordable. "It's unfortunate that we've reached a point that we have to pass a law banning" fraudulent behavior like gag clauses, he said.