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Will TV Commercials Reveal How Much Medicines Cost?

Should drug companies have to tell patients how much their medicines cost? The government wants the industry to include prices in their TV commercials.
Will TV Commercials Reveal How Much Medicines Cost?
Man Watching TV

Do you watch television? If so, are you getting tired of all the prescription drug commercials? It is rare that a commercial break during the evening news doesn’t have at least one pharmaceutical advertisement. And they are expensive! A 30 second commercial in prime time can cost anywhere from $150,000 to $250,000. A commercial during a Sunday night football game could cost over $700,000. Drug companies spend over $6 billion annually imploring viewers to ask their doctor for the latest drug for diabetes, cancer, psoriasis or Crohn’s disease. Now the government is proposing that drug companies reveal how much medicines cost.

Prescription Drug Commercials:

Do any of these names ring a bell? Chantix, Xeljanz XR, Ozempic, Toujeo, Ibrance, Otezla, Eliquis or Xarelto? Chances are good that if you watch TV you have seen a commercial for one of these prescription medicines.

We have studied enough of these commercials to know the system. A dangerous condition such as ulcerative colitis, atrial fibrillation, diabetes or breast cancer is mentioned. Then you learn about the medication being advertised. It is often presented as a wonderful option for the treatment of the disease in question.

Then come the scary side effects. While you listen to the announcer rattle off a long list of nasty complications, the visual images on the screen are intentionally distracting. And the people in the scene are inevitably smiling and having a good time. Liver failure, heart attacks and death don’t seem so menacing if the actors are smiling.

Advertised Medicines Cost a Bundle:

The medications you see advertised on TV are not inexpensive. A month’s supply of the diabetes drug Xeljanz XR exceeds $4,000. The breast cancer medicine Ibrance costs over $11,000 for a month’s supply. You will not see those prices described on the television commercials.

All that may change if the head of Health and Human Services (HHS) has his way. Secretary Alex Azar is the guy in charge of the nation’s health. He has announced a plan that would force drug companies to include price information in direct-to-consumer prescription drug commercials. The goal of price transparency is to put pressure on the companies to price their medications more affordably.

PhRMA Fights Back:

The pharmaceutical industry is not enthusiastic about this proposed rule. The president of PhRMA says that listing prices would be:

 “very confusing, misleading, lacks appropriate context and isn’t what patients want or need.”

 Instead, drug companies have offered to post prices on their web sites. Alex Azar, head of HHS, said:

 “placing information on a website is not the same as putting it right in an ad.”

Alex Azar Turns on his Former Colleagues:

Secretary Azar used to be a pharmaceutical lobbyist and drug company executive. He was in charge of Eli Lilly in the U.S. before he became President Trump’s choice to replace Tom Price at the helm of HHS. Mr. Azar has described the current system as broken.

We suspect his old friends in the pharmaceutical industry are not thrilled with the idea that they might have to include information about how much medicines cost in their TV commercials or magazine ads. People might be a little less enthusiastic about asking their doctors for prescriptions when they learn the medicines cost $4,000 or $5,000 a month.

People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

Today’s medicines cost way too much. When companies charge more than $100,000 for new cancer drugs, we know we are in trouble. These medicines are important advances, but they are not considered cures for cancer. If there ever were a cure for cancer or Alzheimer disease, we can only shudder at what the cost might be.

We doubt that forcing the pharmaceutical industry to reveal drug prices will shame companies into lowering their rates. We also suspect that there will be a full court press by industry lobbyists to stifle any move by Congress to implement the price transparency imitative.

We would love to get your thoughts on this issue. How do you feel about prescription drug advertising on television? Do you think including price information would be worthwhile. Share your ideas in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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