Written: June 2015
The American Medical Association (AMA) has called for a ban on consumer TV advertisements for prescription drugs. Anyone with toenail fungus has either talked to their doctor about it or is not bothered by any symptoms. Regardless, millions of viewers of the Superbowl watched a celebrity step out of a limo and heard Mario Lopez, Jr., television host and actor, highlight the need to fight her toenail fungus. The ad has had more than 2,000 TV airings. The AMA, which represents more than 200,000 physicians in every state, said the growing proliferation of ads is driving demand for expensive drugs despite the availability of clinically effective and less costly alternatives. Here are my six reasons why the ban should be implemented ASAP.
Most babies born in 1900 did not live past age 50. Our life expectancy today has risen to 79. Several factors have contributed to the increasing life span. Drugs created by the pharmaceutical industry have certainly had a positive effect. The industry has also created drugs which enable people crippled with arthritis and other diseases to be happy and productive.
Pharmaceutical research to create the wonder drugs is expensive and risky. Many drugs do not make it to the market. Profit creates the incentive to take the risks and the return on investment for the drug industry deserves to be above average. However, it has become disproportional. Congress has given the industry a blank check to set prices. Consequently, the AMA has called for review of the industry merger and acquisition activity, highlighting anticompetitive behavior, and the ban of direct-to-consumer TV advertising.
Now the question is whether the AMA recommendation will get implemented. The pharmaceutical 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 more for the benefit of the drug industry than for consumers. Many taxpayers struggle to pay the rapidly growing cost of drugs.
My reflections – 2022
This article was published in several healthcare-related magazines. I was interviewed on dozens of radio shows and on Fox Business TV a few months after the article was published. I hoped to get to the subject of direct-to-consumer advertising. No way. Fox Business is a major beneficiary of this advertising. You can find the TV interview with Maria Bartiromo here.
Fast forward seven years from when the article was published and consider what has changed. For healthcare consumers the changes have been even higher drug costs and more TV advertising. Congress has received millions to support their re-election campaigns and has done nothing to address the extraordinary cost of American healthcare.