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Pills and Money

I believe Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is doing a good job of trying to improve our broken healthcare system. The move to allow states to seek a Federal waiver to implement Medicaid in ways tailored to their needs has a lot of potential. Some states have already shown they can reduce cost and improve patient safety and quality. Azar is also trying to make drug pricing more transparent. Manufacturers make deals with middlemen who extract significant revenue which translates directly into higher prices for consumers. His latest move is to require drug companies to show the retail price of the drugs they advertise on TV.

Given the incredible lock the drug companies have on Congress, perhaps this is the best he could do. It may help, but I would prefer to have the TV advertising banned completely. All but one developed country in the world do not allow drug advertising on TV. Consumers know how to get answers. If someone has toe fungus, they can Google toe fungus and see all available information about diagnoses and cures.

The main problem with the TV ads is they use professional actors to look and act like people who have the particular health condition for which they are advertising expensive drugs. I have no doubt, nor do the advertisers, that TV watchers may say to themselves, “Oh, maybe that is what I have”, and they call their doctor to prescribe the expensive drug and then Medicare ends up paying for it, even though a generic drug or non-drug alternative may be equal or better than the expensive advertised drug.

I have written a number of articles for various publications about TV advertising of prescription drugs. I have also talked about healthcare on Fox BusinessTV. The TV news programs are unlikely to invite me in to talk about the subject of drugs since the pharmaceutical industry spends $5 billion per year on TV advertising. My latest article was published in Pharmaceutical Processing. You can read it here. The six reasons why the ads should be banned are highlighted below. Read the complete article here.

1. Direct to consumer advertising creates artificial demand.
2. The ads do not improve American health.
3. The TV ads are inappropriate for young people
4. The ads urge people to get expensive drugs no better than cheaper alternatives.
5. The TV ads are subsidized by taxpayers through tax deductions.
6. European countries with excellent healthcare do not allow TV ads for drugs.