Bioethics Blogs

Pharmaceutical Transparency Bills: Targeting Disclosures Purposefully

On Monday, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Health Care Financing held a hearing on Senate bill 1048, which would require pharmaceutical companies to report to the state a range of information on their research & development costs, marketing and advertising costs, and prices charged to a number of different purchasers.  The hearing, recapped by the Boston Globe and Gloucester Times (among others), went as expected, with industry executives opposing the bill and health insurers, consumer advocates, and others testifying in support.

Massachusetts is not the only state considering a transparency bill.  At least ten other states, including California, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia have all drafted bills that would advance similar goals.  These bills do differ in their details.  As just one example, each state would require disclosure from a different set of drugs and companies.  Massachusetts would only require disclosure of costs and pricing for the top twenty selling drugs in the state (where the list is based around a set of criteria including but not limited to cost), California, Oregon, and Virginia would require disclosure for any drug whose wholesale cost is $10,000 or more per year (in California, this includes over 900 drugs), and North Carolina’s bill is framed around classes of drugs, rather than prices.

It is no accident that these bills have been developed in the wake of Martin Shkreli, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, and other drug pricing scandals.  Patients and policymakers are seizing this moment to take action against the drug industry.  Forcing companies to disclose their R&D costs, advertising costs, and pricing practices is seen as a step in the right direction against these secretive companies.  In this blog post, I want to focus on just one of many interesting issues raised by these bills: what and who are they useful for, and how can we target the required disclosures to best achieve those ends?  More specifically, I’m not interested in transparency for transparency’s sake.  Disclosure rules (like nutrition labels, for instance) can and should be used to help people make better decisions than they would’ve otherwise made.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.