Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Nation of Drugseekers, Priced Out of the Market

It's not often that we get to see the complete causal chain all wrapped up in one brief newspaper article, but USA Today managed it:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-02-29-drugs-main_N.htm

At issue: a recent USA Today/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health poll that revealed that about a third of us go to "ask our doctor" after seeing a TV drug advertisement, and that 82% of those who ask end up with some prescription or other. Also, 29% reported not being able to fill a prescription sometime in the last 2 years because of cost; 23% had to cut pills in half or skip doses due to cost; and 41% of families have some sort of problem due to the cost of drugs.

The poll showed that slightly more than half of the "ask your doctor" crowd ended up with a prescription for a different drug than the one advertised. On the one hand, that sounds good, as if physicians might actually be wisely suggesting lower cost generic equivalents. On the other hand, we have to wonder if 82% of those who asked (by the way, up from 75% in a 2005 poll) truly needed a prescription medication for whatever their problem was--especially given the tendency of direct-to-consumer ads to persuade us over time that more and more of what we used to call normal living is actually a previously unknown disease and needs aggressive therapy with drugs.

DTC advertising, at one point thought to have peaked and to be on the downslope, obviously is highly effective in generating pharma revenue, and the article reports that spending on such ads in 2006 reached record levels of $4.8B.

The poll showed a 47-44% split of those having favorable and unfavorable views of the drug industry, respectively. Billy Tauzin, president of PhRMA, gamely argued that people don't really dislike the drug companies. Rather, they react with anger to the higher co-pays that insurance companies slap them with, and that makes them feel sour about the drug company. Presumably it's the insurers who are the rapacious bastards, not your friendly pharmaceutical industry. (In that he is no doubt right, but I'll let other bloggers on health reform take that up.)

So here we have the entire package deal. DTC ads are turning us into a nation of drugseekers, which enhances revenue for the industry, but also drives up the prices of drugs, which makes drugs less affordable for an increasing percentage of us.

3 comments:

LISA EMRICH said...

"Billy Tauzin, president of PhRMA, gamely argued that people don't really dislike the drug companies. Rather, they react with anger to the higher co-pays that insurance companies slap them with, and that makes them feel sour about the drug company. Presumably it's the insurers who are the rapacious bastards, not your friendly pharmaceutical industry."

Oh, now isn't that clever of Mr. rich-guy Tauzin?

While the insurance companies may provide a cushion between the consumer and the drug company, it is still the drug company which sets their selling strategies and subsequent wholesale prices.

Take my personal situation, my insurance stops paying anything for pharmaceuticals after $1500. That leaves me with the full head-on cost to obtain necessary MS-related drugs which carrying a $30,000 pricetag. It's just me and the drug company with that looming cost overhead.

No co-pays involved - simply the drug cost.

I wonder how Mr. Tauzin would like to pay the same portion of his income as I do on maintenance medications. Consider this, $30,000 is less than his weekly earnings - so I guess he would not be "priced out" of the same market.

Anonymous said...

This is a if not the fallacy of pharma DTC advertising. As citizens, we should not seek drugs. It's ultimately unheathy- especially if the disease in such an ad does not exist within such a seeker. Regardless, thier health should be termined by a health care provider and not themselves.

Let's look at impotence drugs, which really make me laugh. Typically, they show an overly- elated middle aged man with more activity than most teenagers whose apparent healh makes him appear to be with limited health issues. Sure, his elation may be due to te fact that his reproductive ability is illustrated to be restored, but most familiar with the disease of ED will tell you that they are usally a trainwreck not suitable for broadcasting if one wants to sell drugs.

Then there is depression DTC ads, which shows a rather deceptive metamorphosis that occurs after a depressed one is medicated. Yet only recently the efficacy of such anti-depressants have been determined to be minimal.

Finally, there is the ever present statement, "talk to your doctor about...". Well, of course. These DTC meds require a prescription, so you would need to see your health care professional anyway.

Yeah, there is apparent ROI, yet I believe it's a preceptual task initiated by pharma cos. to illustrate thier efforts to shareholders about progressing thier progress.

Reasons for the pharma DTC ads are irrelevant. They are, I believe, potentially unhealthy and possibly harmful to others who pay attention to them.

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