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Pharmaceutical Marketing Hurts Consumers

June 25th, 2011 – Some time ago I was sitting in the lobby of my doctor’s office waiting to see my doctor when the door opened and an attractive well dressed couple walked in.  As it turned out, they were pharmaceutical sales reps. The man smiled and asked the lady running the doctor’s front office if they could take the doctor and his staff out to lunch. She responded that they were booked solid for the next month with lunches with pharmaceutical reps.

I was astonished. I knew right then and there that something was wrong. I went into the doctor and he prescribed yet another drug to try and treat my hay fever. I thought about it for a moment and told the doctor that I wasn’t interested in trying any more medications. He was fine with that and I was happy to no longer treat myself like a guinea pig.  Once off all the meds I realized that my hay fever wasn’t really all that bad and I’ve never taken anything for it since.

Don’t get me wrong, medications can be lifesaving, necessary and can have a positive impact on the quality of life for many people.   I’m very thankful we have those medications.  My complaint is not with the medications, but with the way they are marketed and the societal effects of their marketing.

The industry uses TV, Internet and magazine advertisements to create consumer demand for pharmaceutical products instead of allowing doctors to prescribe them when and where they are needed.  The industry uses “lifestyle” marketing to promote their brands in the same way that we are sold Pepsi and Coke. This is illegal in most countries, but not in America.

Annual estimates for marketing costs for the pharmaceutical industry range from $20-60 Billion annually, representing nearly 30% of the cost of products sold. In comparison, only about 11% is spent on research and development of new pharmaceuticals.

The pharmaceutical industry has too big and powerful a lobby that has successfully had its way with legislators on both sides of the aisle, as well as Presidents. Not only are they getting their way with marketing, but they are bilking taxpayers as well. They pay huge sums of money to former Beltway insiders to gain access to and influence our leaders, taking money from US taxpayers through programs like Medicare Part D, fighting against generic drugs, cheaper Canadian drug imports and the US Government using its collective purchasing power through Medicare to negotiate more favorable rates.

Since most of Big Pharma are publicly traded companies, their charter is to serve the interest of their shareholders. As you will read in this revealing article written by a Medical Doctor, Big Pharma has lobbied some insurance companies to get their drugs moved into more affordable Tiers and then often coupons that may equal the copay.   Everyone loves a deal, but while coupons are attractive to consumers, these tactics drive up health insurance premiums for employers and families, which lead to more uninsured or “insurance-poor” Americans.

Just about everyone I talk to agrees and acknowledges the problem. So, the real question is, “What is the solution?

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