AMA Seeks to Ban Direct-to-Consumer Advertising

Concerned that a growing number of prescription drug and medical device ads may be driving demand for expensive treatments despite the ability of as-effective and less-costly alternatives, the American Medical Association (AMA) recently voted in favor of banning direct-to-consumer advertising.

Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Congress are the only entities that have the power to enact such a ban, the AMA views this new policy as a step toward making prescription drugs more affordable, arguing that, as more people seek drugs they may not need, drug prices and money spent on selling them are on the rise. Spending on direct-to-consumer advertising has increased 30 percent in the past two years, amounting to $4.5 billion. At the same time, prescription drug prices have increased nearly 5 percent this year, the AMA explained.

“[This vote] 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, MD, MA, the board chair-elect at the AMA, in a press release from the agency. “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

The AMA’s new policy calls for convening a physician task force and launching an advocacy campaign to promote more affordable prescription drugs, by demanding choice and competition in the pharmaceutical industry and greater transparency in prescription drug prices and costs. The AMA also plans to monitor pharmaceutical company mergers and acquisitions to determine how they will affect drug prices.

As part of the new policy, the AMA will encourage actions by federal regulators to limit anti-competitive behavior by pharmaceutical companies against generic manufacturers through manipulation of patent protections and abuse of regulatory exclusivity incentives.

The agency argues that a greater understanding of factors that contribute to prescription drug pricing, including research, development, and manufacturing, is necessary for all health-care stakeholders, including physicians, patients, manufacturers, and payers.

Members of the pharmaceutical industry, however, took issue with the AMA’s decision. Tina Stow, of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, argued that direct-to-consumer advertising offers “scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health-care and treatment options [and it leads to] important doctor−patient conversations about health that might otherwise not take place.”

Sources: American Medical Association, “AMA calls for ban on direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs and medical devices,” November 17, 2015; The Washington Post, “American Medical Association urges ban on TV drug ads,” November 19, 2015.