WASHINGTON (NEWS CENTER Maine/AP) — Insurers will no longer be able to bar pharmacists from telling consumers when paying cash would be cheaper than using insurance for their prescriptions, as a result of bills signed Wednesday by President Donald Trump.
The two bills, authored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-MO), had broad bipartisan support as a consumer-friendly move to correct "gag rules" that many viewed as an egregious business practice.
One bill applies to private health insurance and the other to Medicare but both are an effort to bring down the cost of prescription drugs.
The measures bar health plans or middlemen that manage pharmacy benefits from getting in between pharmacists and their customers. No longer can pharmacists be contractually prohibited from telling consumers when they would actually save money by not using their insurance plans.
“Insurance is intended to save consumers money. Gag clauses in contracts that prohibit pharmacists from telling patients about the best prescription drug prices do the opposite,” said Sen. Collins.
Such head-scratching situations can arise because of convoluted deals between drug companies, insurers, middlemen and pharmacies.
Trump complained that drug prices are "way out of whack" and "way too high." But a recent Associated Press analysis of brand-name prescription drug prices suggests repeated strong criticism from the president hasn't had much impact. The analysis found it's been business as usual for drugmakers, with far more price increases than cuts.
“Who would think that using your debit card to buy your prescription drugs would be less expensive than using your insurance card? It’s counterintuitive," said Sen. Collins.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the bills give patients the right to know about ways to pay the lowest price.
Under pharmacy "gag" rules, pharmacists have been prohibited from proactively telling consumers when their prescription would cost less if they paid for it out-of-pocket rather than using their insurance plan. Pharmacists who disobeyed risked penalties that could impact their business.