Notice to the public: Cutting DTC ads will not result in lower drug prices

KEY TAKEAWAY: High drug prices are a problem, but the answer is not cutting DTC advertising from drug companies.  Lower drug prices will only come with an integrated approach to health care.

This morning Robert Reich posted a video on high drug prices and of course a lot of people said that in order to lower prices we should ban DTC marketing.  That approach will not work and is not the cause of high drug prices.

With the new tax bill in place you would hope that pharma companies would use the money to lower some drug prices, but unfortunately they are using the money to purchase other, smaller drug companies.  Why? Because it’s often less expensive to purchase other drug companies than invest in R&D.

In 2016 the drug industry spent over $6 billion on DTC ads.  However, economists suggest DTC ads offer patients important information, boosting overall demand for classes of drugs that can genuinely help people, and ultimately serve a preventative role that benefits society as a whole. After all, some types of drugs, such as cholesterol-lowering statins, provide a broader societal benefit by preventing costly and life-threatening heart attacks.

It’s also interesting to note that today very few patients see an ad and run to the doctor to ask for an advertised drug. There are just too many barriers such as finding the time to make an appointment and getting your insurance to pay for the product.

Finally, we, the public have to take responsibility for our poor health. We are a nation of people who too often eat cheeseburgers instead of salads.  Here are some sobering stats:

1ne: In a study published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, researchers led by Dr. Farhad Islami at the American Cancer Society analyzed national cancer data and calculated how much of cancer cases and deaths can be attributed to factors that people can change. These included smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, being overweight or obese, drinking too much alcohol, eating red and processed meats, eating too few fruits and vegetables, not exercising, exposure to ultraviolet radiation through activities like tanning and six cancer-related infections (including HPV). Among more than 1.5 million cancers in 2014, 42% were traced to these factors, as well as 45% of deaths in that year.

2wo: The estimated annual health care costs of obesity-related illness are a staggering $190.2 billion or nearly 21% of annual medical spending in the United States. Childhood obesity alone is responsible for $14 billion in direct medical costs.

3hree: Diabetes was the condition with the greatest increase in spending, rising by $64.4 billion between 1996 and 2013. Most of this money went to pharmaceuticals prescribed to treat it. The single most important risk factor for type 2 diabetes is obesity , noted Dr. Patrick H. Conway of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina in an editorial published alongside the new analysis.

In other words, we are a nation that prefers to take a pill instead of eating healthy and exercising.

Nothing can justify a company like Gilead buying a drug that was developed by a scientist who was supposedly working for the government to charge a $1000 per pill while their CEO pulls down over $90 million in compensation nor can it justify the high costs of cancer drugs but remember that the “list price” is often discounted up to 45% with payers.

If we want to lower drug prices the answer is not to cut DTC ads.  It’s a combination of lowering the rate of obesity, an emphasis on healthy living with incentives and a the government doing a better job negotiating lower drug costs for Medicare.

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