On July 9, President Biden signed Executive Order 14063, designed to promote competition in the American economy with the goal of lowering prices for families, increasing wages for workers, and promoting innovation and even faster economic growth. The Order is expansive—requiring more than 12 federal agencies to pursue 72 initiatives. One of the Order’s prominent targets is drug pricing. At the signing ceremony, President Biden reiterated that “Americans pay two-and-a-half times more for prescription drugs than in any other leading country,” and “nearly one in four Americans struggles to afford their medication.” We have heard similar words multiple times before over many years, however, to date, there has been little progress.
The Order’s initiatives focusing on drug prices do not appear very different from similar efforts in recent years. First, the Order calls on the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to create a plan within 45 days to combat “excessive pricing of prescription drugs and enhance domestic pharmaceutical supply chains, to reduce the prices paid by the federal government for such drugs, and to address the recurrent problem of price gouging.” While perhaps a good sound bite, this initiative is not new. In fact, it sounds similar to the Trump administration’s “Most Favored Nation” drug pricing initiative under which Medicare reimbursement for certain drugs would be based on lower prices in other countries. The call for a plan to be delivered in 45 days is curious since it is reported that HHS delivered a new, Biden administration, most favored nation drug pricing rule to the Office of Management Budget for review earlier last week. Perhaps the plan will address how the Biden administration can implement this policy and avoid being bogged down in litigation.
During 2019 and 2020, states enacted fewer laws requiring drug manufacturers to disclose pricing and related information. Initially, the slowdown may have been due to federal actions to rein in drug prices through the Trump administration’s multiple executive orders. Thereafter, states were focused on responding to the pandemic and drug pricing was understandably placed on the back burner.
Circumstances have since changed. We now have a new president and administration, and the country is hopefully turning the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic. Inevitably, the federal government and states will again turn their focus to drug prices. While the Trump administration’s executive orders made for good public sound bites, they had little to no actual impact on drug prices. At the end of the day, most of the Trump administration’s initiatives never made it to the regulatory rulemaking phase and those that did were met with legal challenges.
Only a month in, the Biden administration has issued multiple executive orders and memoranda reversing prior executive orders and freezing pending regulations and enforcement policies with respect to existing regulations. After a brief discussion of what we have seen in the early days of the Biden administration in terms of drug pricing, this article reviews new and existing state laws requiring drug manufacturers to report pricing and other information. Thereafter, we again question the efficacy of the state price transparency efforts and what manufacturers should be doing in terms of compliance.
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On Sunday, while everyone was watching the return of NFL football, the Administration was busy fulfilling a promise it made in July to lower drug prices paid by the United States and Medicare beneficiaries by tying pricing to certain foreign countries.
In July, the Administration issued three Executive Orders concerning drug pricing and access to critical therapies. At that time, the Administration also announced that, unless the pharmaceutical industry proposed a plan that would decrease prices paid by Medicare Part B by August 24, the Administration would move forward with its own plan. Apparently, no agreement with the industry was reached because on Sunday the Administration announced its own plan.
In what is being called the “Most Favored Nations” Executive Order, the Administration is re-starting its efforts to reduce the prices the United States pays for drugs under Medicare Parts B and D. The Order uses the “most-favored-nation price” as the benchmark for prices to be paid by the United States. Most-favored-nation price is defined as the lowest price, after adjusting for volume and differences in national gross domestic product, for a pharmaceutical product that the drug manufacturer sells in a comparable member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”).
Perhaps most surprising is the increased scope of the Order. The Order goes beyond what was proposed in July by seeking to link not only Medicare Part B drug prices but also Medicare Part D prices to lower prices paid by other countries. With respect to both Medicare Parts, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (“HHS”) “payment model” is to test whether poor clinical outcomes improve as a result of patients paying lower prices—no more than the most-favored-nation prices—for certain high-cost pharmaceuticals and biologics.
While the Order makes for a snappy sound bite, any potential benefits of lower drug prices will not be seen anytime soon. First, HHS will need to complete its rulemaking, which could have its own challenges. For example, in November 2018, HHS published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPR”) proposing to implement an international reference pricing payment model for use by Medicare and Medicaid. Ultimately, nothing became of the ANPR. Even then, implementation of the contemplated programs is precarious. Industry opposition to the Order has been palpable and any HHS plan will likely face legal challenges that could substantially delay implementation.