Federal judge blocks Trump administration drug pricing rule

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Dec 23 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a last-minute Trump administration rule aimed at lowering drug prices as of next week.

The rule, scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, would have tied reimbursements for 50 drugs by Medicare, a U.S. government insurance program, to the lowest prices paid by certain other countries. U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake in Maryland ruled that the administration had rushed the rule without giving the public a chance to comment, in violation of federal law.

The decision is a victory for PhRMA, the nation's leading pharmaceutical industry trade group, which had filed a lawsuit challenging the so-called "most favored nation"rule, arguing it would result in Medicare patients losing access to vital care. The group said Wednesday that it welcomed Blake's decision.

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The Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that passed the rule, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The administration has said that the rule, which was unveiled in November, could save taxpayers and patients $85 billion over seven years.

Blake's order is temporary, and could be lifted later if the administration ultimately prevails in the lawsuit.

Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a trade group, is also challenging the rule in a separate lawsuit in California.

Efforts by the administration to keep down drug prices, such as a proposed rule to force drugmakers to reveal list prices in advertisements, have been undermined by successful industry lawsuits in the past.

Since he lost the election, U.S. President Donald Trump has been issuing and finalizing a host of rule changes in areas ranging from energy to healthcare to immigration in a bid to bolster key areas of his agenda prior to leaving the White House in January.

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Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler

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