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Commentary

OUR OPINIONS: Not buying this 'remedy' Not enough that the pharmaceutical industry plans to reduce consumer ads. FDA controls are needed, too
The Atlanta Journal–Constitution, 8-5-05

Our second article on DTC this week comes courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which takes a dim view of the industry’s new voluntary guidelines because, it says, advertising increases the cost of new medicines and “provide little or no health benefit” to consumers:

Direct-to-consumer ads inflate the price of drugs --- already the fastest rising component of health-care costs --- and they provide little or no health benefit. Drug manufacturers claim the ads educate consumers about diseases and treatment options, but critics contend the ads are primarily used to grow new markets for the drugs among patients who don't necessarily need them. They point to the explosion of consumer interest stimulated by advertising for anti-arthritis drugs such as Vioxx and Celebrex, which were found last year to increase the risk of heart problems in some patients. Many of the patients taking the two drugs would have done just as well with over-the-counter pain relievers, but they were convinced by advertisers that they had to use the prescription remedies instead.

We think that the Journal-Constitution lays far too much blame on companies for America’s staggering health care costs. As a recent article in Forbes noted, prescription-drug spending only represents a fraction of total U.S. health care costs—about 11%. Drug spending is rising, but primarily because more people are being treated for conditions—like asthma—that experts generally consider undertreated. Policymakers who are really concerned about wasteful consumer health care spending should help promote HSAs or other kinds of high-deductible insurance, which put consumers in control of their own spending, and makes them less likely to spend money on treatments they don’t really need—whether those are prescription drugs or MRIs.



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