Which Drug Is Which? Who Decides?

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    As I'm sure you know, drug prices have risen dramatically in the past couple of decades. Sure, there are some great new medicines available (and more coming all the time), but they are only available at a high cost... one that the health insurance companies want less and less to bear.

     

    Even if you have health insurance, it can be hard to get them to pay for the medicines you and your doctor believe you'll benefit most from. Insurance providers try to push patients toward the generic versions of older, less progressive drugs.

     

    In many cases, this can lead to poorer control of a health condition and/or more illness, which ultimately leads to higher health care expenditures, precisely what the insurance company was trying to avoid in the first place.

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    This seems to me to be short-sighted.

     

    But what is behind these astronomical drug costs? Is it the high cost of research and development? The extraordinary hoops the FDA makes U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers jump through to get medicine approved? Those are reasons that pharmaceutical companies would have us believe.

     

    I've heard many patients grouse that high drug prices are related simply to the greed of the pharm companies, in trying to gain unethical profits.

     

    How do we know where the truth lies?

     

    Well, according to an article published in today's USA Today, high drug prices might be related more to the high cost of advertising than to anything else. In 2006, drug companies spent an unbelievable $4.8 billion on drug advertising.

     

    Why? Quite simply, because it works. A recent survey by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and USA Today found that drug ads do motivate people to ask their doctors for prescriptions. Not only that, but 82% of the time, doctors go ahead and prescribe either what was asked for or something similar.

     

    So, for the drug companies, advertising definitely pays. But clearly, for us, it doesn't. We either have to fight to get the prescription authorized (if we have insurance) or pay high out of pocket prices (if we don't). Either way, as usual, the patient loses.

     

    But I think even more important is the issue that this whole situation raises. Should the patient even be given the opportunity to ask doctors about specific drugs? Or should doctors be the ones who decide, from start to finish, which drug is best for each patient and each situation?

     

    I'm not sure I have a firm opinion about this. One reason is because I'm a nurse, and my knowledge level about both disease and treatment tends to be a notch above the average consumer, just because of my education and experience. So, certainly, I would like to be part of any decision-making, because I can make truly informed decisions.

     

    But the average consumer is not coming at this from the same perspective. However... I firmly believe that everyone of us has the right and the responsibility to be empowered AND to be an active member of the healthcare team. And that means being involved in all decision-making that affects your treatment. Drug ads could – conceivably – help educate you about what is available.

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    What we don't know, though, is how accurate the drug ads we're seeing are. Are drug companies just trying to sell lots of product or are they truly trying to help us? How can we really know?

     

    For instance, just last month, Pfizer withdrew advertising they'd been running for Lipitor involving a Dr. Robert Jarvik. Apparently there were a number of misleading facts presented in that ad that would unduly influence consumers to ask for a prescription to Lipitor.

     

    I don't know... I'm torn. On the one hand, I want information about allergy and asthma treatment. And I want access to the newest and the most effective drugs. But I DON'T want to have to mortgage my home to get them.

     

    How about you? Where do you weigh in on this topic? To tell us, use the comment feature at the end of this post. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Published On: March 04, 2008