3 facts about the AMA's call to ban drug ads

By Aine Cryts

The American Medical Association (AMA) came out swinging against advertising by pharmaceutical companies this week. Physicians at the medical association's recent interim meeting voted to support banning drug ads.

"Today's vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices," said Patrice A. Harris, M.D., board chair-elect of the AMA, in an announcement. "Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate."

Here's some context about the AMA's move to ban drug advertising:

  • A significant minority (28 percent) of the 1,000 adults who participated in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in October said they had discussed a specific advertised drug with their doctor. Twelve percent of these adults were later prescribed the advertised drug.
  • AMA's move--while headline grabbing--is "largely symbolic," according to STAT. That's because any ban on drug ads would have to be authorized by Congress. Still, money talks, and the AMA and the Center for Responsive Politics, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) are neck and neck in terms of lobbying spend: AMA spent just shy of $20 million on lobbying the federal government last year, whereas PhRMA spent close to $17 million in the same time period, according to Bloomberg News.
  • The medical association says its stand on drug ads stems from years of complaints by doctors and the rising cost of drugs, according to STAT. The cost of generic and brand-name drugs increased 4.7 percent this year, according to the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit health systems research and consulting organization.

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry isn't holding its punches. PhRMA's spokesperson told STAT that direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising "provides scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options."

All eyes are on the 2016 presidential election. Still, it remains to be seen whether banning drug ads is an issue that either political party will champion.

To learn more:
- read AMA announcement
- check out the Kaiser Family Foundation poll results
- view the STAT article
- read the Bloomberg News article
- see the Altarum Institute's research

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