(READ) Senators: expensive drug ads target seniors; balloon taxpayer costs

Two senators, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), say they plan to introduce new legislation to expose “Pharma’s unfair drug advertising practices” and require disclosure of drug costs in TV ads. They say that will save taxpayers money.

The announcement comes after an analysis by the General Accountability Office (GAO). It found TV ads and other controversial “direct-to-consumer” marketing of drugs targets America’s seniors with ads for expensive medicine without disclosing prices.

Durbin and Grassley say that results in inflated Medicare spending to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year.

  • Humira was the highest-advertised drug, with $1.4 billion in Direct to Consumer spending during a 3 year window.
  • Lyrica was next at $913 million.
  • Trulicity was third at $655 million.

In a statement released Thursday, the senators said, “Drug manufacturers advertise to encourage consumers to ask their doctors for specific medications. From 2016-18, Medicare and its beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs—more than half on drugs that were advertised. Nearly half of all ad dollars centered on drugs to treat chronic medical conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and depression. Most advertising was for brand-name drugs with about 2/3 of ad dollars spent on just 39 drugs. Drug manufacturers also spent more on advertising to coincide with a drug’s launch (about half of ad dollars promoted newly marketed drugs) or advances in a drug’s development.”

Other findings include:

  • Drug manufacturers spent $17.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for 553 drugs from 2016 through 2018.
  • Most spending was on brand-name drugs, with about two-thirds concentrated on 39 drugs.
  • Manufacturers spent over $100 million each to advertise each of the 39 drugs.
  • Medicare Parts B and D, and beneficiaries, spent $560 billion on drugs from 2016 through 2018.
  • $324 billion of that was spent on advertised drugs.
  • Much of the spending was concentrated on treating arthritis, diabetes, and depression.
  • Four of drugs with some of the highest Medicare costs that were advertised the most in 2018: Eliquis (blood thinner), Humira (arthritis), Keytruda (cancer), and Lyrica (diabetic pain).

This GAO report found that Pharma’s $6 billon annual spending spree on TV, magazine, and internet advertisements for the newest and most expensive drugs balloons Medicare’s costs. Drugs that are advertised direct-to-consumer accounted for nearly 60 percent of Medicare’s medication budget. GAO documented Pharma’s tried and true scheme: America’s seniors are being targeted with ads for expensive medications without disclosing the price of the drug, then Medicare spending is inflated to the tune of tens of billions of dollars each year.  We plan to introduce new legislation to bring transparency to Pharma’s unfair drug advertising practices by requiring the disclosure of the product’s cost, which will lower drug spending and empower patients.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

Read the GAO report at the link below:


Studies show that the average American sees nine DTC ads each day—which steer patients to the most expensive drugs regardless of whether it is clinically appropriate for a patient or if a lower-cost generic is available.  

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2 thoughts on “(READ) Senators: expensive drug ads target seniors; balloon taxpayer costs”

  1. So two members of Congress want to make like they are trying to stand up for the citizens. If they had any guts, they would offer and push for bills to repeal the Direct to Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising that was granted by Congress in 1997. That will stop the useless messages and maybe bring the news media out from under the control of Big Pharma. While they are at it they should include a repeal of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act of 1992 to force the FDA to work for the people and not the drug cartel. Of course that won’t happen because Big Pharma owns Congress.

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