The American Medical Association today called for a ban on consumer advertisements for prescription drugs. I cited this as a major problem in Health Attitude in March and was really pleased to see the AMA make the common sense proclamation. The AMA cited a number of reasons for their decision. Here are my six reasons why the ban should be implemented ASAP.
- Direct to consumer advertising is not needed. It does not improve American health. Consumers know how to use the Internet to search on any symptom they may have and find good information they can discuss with their doctor.
- The TV ads can create artificial demand. Actors and actresses can cause psychosomatic effects in consumers making them feel they may have a disease even though they may not have had any symptoms.
- The TV ads are inappropriate. People are fed up with them. Many drugs advertised are not applicable to the millions of children who see them everyday. Seniors may be led to worry unnecessarily about a condition they may not have.
- The TV ads push very expensive drugs when lower priced alternatives may be available and more effective.
- The biggest problem in the American healthcare system is the high cost. The TV ads add to the cost. Taxpayers are subsidizing all of the above because TV advertising is a tax deductible expense.
- The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two developed countries that allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Many European and Asian countries have excellent healthcare at a per capita cost 50-80% of what the U.S. spends. None of them allow the TV ads.
Now the question is whether the AMA recommendation will get implemented. I would like to be optimistic, but I am not. The pharmaceuticals and health products industry has more than 1,500 lobbyists and spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year on lobbying activities, far more than any other industry. The lobby convinced Congress to ban Medicare from negotiating the price of drugs. They have convinced Congress to give hundreds of millions of dollars in preferential treatment to individual drug companies. There are many lobbies; every industry has them. At times they do good things and prevent Congress from doing something dumb. In the case of pharmaceuticals, it is clear the lobby has a lock on Congress and causes them to act for the benefit of the drug industry, not for consumers and taxpayers who pay the rapidly growing cost of drugs.