Belle Frank, VMLY&R

With the government’s recent directive that drug companies must include the prices of prescription medicines in DTC television ads — and PhRMA’s new guidelines for its members — transparency around cost is a critical priority moving into 2019. But disclosing these prices without context may prevent consumers from seeking medical care, according to PhRMA’s recommendation to the industry.

So what do these changes mean for advertisers and marketers? As advertisers, we support brands’ participation in PhRMA’s voluntary action, which will soon direct patients to comprehensive info about medicine costs. That info will include the list price of the medicine and expected range of out-of-pocket costs, as well as available financial assistance.

A greater focus on transparency around medical costs is important to consumers, but it is not clear the DTC requirement will have a positive effect on consumer understanding of cost or, more importantly, on health decisions.

And misleading price info may deter people from seeking medical care if they believe they cannot afford the cost of a drug, even if their insurance would cover most of it. The list price info on the advertised brand will be inadequate to help consumers evaluate appropriate treatment choices.

Significant research on price messaging and medication choice is needed to ensure DTC TV ads continue to help consumers. We should test these ads to understand the impact of price messaging on the effectiveness of the overall brand communication.

The ability of these ads to educate patients may be reduced if the messaging becomes even more complex. List price information in TV communications would have to be contextualized with messaging that helps consumers understand the real-world cost to them.

Digital communications have the ability to convey price transparency in a manner that truly helps consumers. Great care and creativity will be critical in their implementation so they provide clarity and utility. Tapping into innovative tech will enable personalization based on the individual’s needs, insurance coverage, and eligibility for savings programs.

As public comment and debate continue, it is possible the proposed regulation will be modified. Legal challenges are likely, while enforcement will be difficult. Pursuing transparency in DTC ads is important, but we must thoroughly explore the how-to when it comes to helping patients and moving our clients’ businesses forward.

Belle Frank is chief strategy officer, global health practice at VMLY&R.