A federal judge on Monday stopped a Trump administration initiative that would have required drugmakers to reveal the sticker price of their drugs in television ads.
Under the rule, if a medicine's list price was more than $35 a month, it would have to be stated during the commercial. The challenge, opponents say, is that a drug's list price and estimates of what people can expect to pay vary widely depending on coverage.
The rule was blocked hours before it was set to take effect, the latest setback for the White House as Trump administration officials continue to search for ways to pressure pharmaceutical companies into lowering their prices — a proposal made by the Trump administration in the runup to last November's midterm election.
The decision from U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services does not have the regulatory power to make drug manufacturers include the cost of drugs in television commercials.
Mehta wrote that in halting the rule, the court was not questioning its wisdom, but resting the issue on the law set by Congress in the first place.
"That policy very well could be an effective tool in halting the rising cost of prescription drugs. But no matter how vexing the problem of spiraling drug costs may be, HHS cannot do more than what Congress has authorized," Mehta wrote.
Critics pointed out that the rule was toothless, since there was no enforcement mechanism spelled out for when a company did not comply. Instead, the rule relied on the private sector to police itself.
The television-ad rule had the support of both the Trump administration and consumer rights advocates.
That said, patient advocate groups told NPR that while holding drugmakers accountable for prices is welcome, they remained skeptical that drug companies could be shamed, as the administration intended, into lowering their prices.
Last month, groups including drug manufacturers Merck, Eli Lilly and Amgen sued the Trump administration over the rule, arguing that it would violate the companies' free speech rights.
Health and Human Services said in a statement that though it was hoping for a favorable ruling, the Trump administration is focused on lowering drug prices and creating more transparency in healthcare costs.
"We are not surprised by the objections to transparency from certain special interests, putting drug prices in ads is a useful way to put patients in control and lower costs," said HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley.
AARP, which represents older Americans, also expressed disappointment on Monday over the court's ruling.
"Today's ruling is a step backward in the battle against skyrocketing drug prices and providing more information to consumers," the group said. "Americans should be trusted to evaluate drug price information and discuss any concerns with their health care providers."