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AMA Calls For Ban On 'Direct-To-Consumer' Drug Ads

Nov 25, 2015
Originally published on November 25, 2015 1:12 pm

Many people have seen the ads on TV pushing this pill or that device. It's usually followed by "Ask your doctor if this medication is right for you."

But the American Medical Association says those ads contribute to rising drug costs and patient demands for inappropriate treatments and they're calling for a ban on what they call "direct-to-consumer" ads for prescription drugs and implantable devices.

They say ad dollars for prescription drugs have increased 30 percent in the last two years, and prescription drugs have risen 5 percent just this year.

Corey Howard, a Naples physician  and secretary for the Florida Medical Association, agrees that drug advertising is problematic.

"One of the major problems with this advertising is it does significantly raise drug prices and also doesn't potentially do what it's supposed to do, which is educate consumers on products," Howard said. "It really is a sales mechanism."

He says the United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer advertising. 

Opponents of the ban, including some doctors, say the ads help patients make better decisions about their health care and encourages people to visit the doctor more often to have conversations about treatment.

But the issue is not black or white, Howard said. In coming months, the AMA will be further researching both the negative and positive side effects from advertising health treatments.

Not only can certain advertised treatments be inappropriate for a patient's condition, Howard said, it's often not covered by their insurance, so they can't get it anyway.

He said 30 percent of patients directly ask for a drug, but only 12 percent get it for a variety of reasons.

"For an example, the new hepatitis C drugs are very expensive and they're getting advertised on television because for every patient that they get, it's a huge amount of money for the insurance companies," Howard said. "Those drugs are good, no doubt about it, but can everybody get it? Well, probably not, unless you're willing to pay for it. It's a lot more complex than just saying it's (the ads are) good or bad."

Howard said that ultimately, "it's about doing what is best in terms of taking care of the people of the United States. We're bound as physicians to really look at the evidence-based science on both sides of the equation."

--Daylina Miller is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2015 WUSF-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wusf.usf.edu/.