U.S. Rep Introduces Bill to Limit Drug Advertising

A Connecticut representative has introduced a bill that would restrict direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat representing Connecticut’s third Congressional district, has introduced the “Responsibility in Drug Advertising Act,” which would require a delay of three years on any advertising of newly approved prescription drugs. Direct advertising to consumers by pharmaceutical companies has also been opposed by Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and by the American Medical Association (AMA).

“At the end of the day, we should allow informed medical professionals, not advertising executives, to guide our healthcare spending,” said DeLauro in an official announcement of the bill. The Congresswoman added that the moratorium on advertising would minimize the perpetuation of inaccurate drug information and control costs by limiting the number of drugs that consumers can ask their physicians about directly, thereby putting more control in doctors’ hands to determine treatment options. DeLauro cited a 13% increase in prescription drug spending in 2015 to $374 billion.

The legislation would also bar ads from running after the three-year delay if the Department of Health and Human Services determines a new drug comes with “significant” side effects.

However, there has been fervent disapproval of the bill. “What [Ms. DeLauro] is saying is that if you come up with a drug that is lifesaving, you could not tell people about it for two or three years,” said Dan Jaffe, the top lobbyist for the Association of National Advertisers, in a statement to Advertising Age. “Cutting people off from truthful, valuable and lifesaving information is not only deceptive but unconstitutional.” Jaffe added that the ban “would paternalistically roll the clock back decades to the days when only doctors could be ‘trusted’ to receive information about important health issues.”

DeLauro’s proposed legislation is the most recent major development in an ongoing debate over the appropriateness of direct-to-consumer drug advertising. At the Interim Meeting of the AMA in Atlanta in November 2015, a majority of attendees voted to back a total ban on direct-to-consumer advertising and called on Congress to prohibit the practice. They stated that drug ads geared towards consumers drives demand for expensive treatments when more affordable alternatives are available.

“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 AMA Board Chair-elect Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., at the Interim Meeting. “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

On the presidential campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has stated that, in an effort to lower drug expenses, she, if elected, would not allow pharmaceutical companies to deduct their direct-to-consumer advertising costs, and would require them to invest in deeper R&D rather than marketing strategy in exchange for taxpayer support.

Before the mid-1980s, pharmaceutical companies could only advertise their products to healthcare professionals. That practice changed when the FDA approved direct-to-consumer advertising, though the agency continues to regulate ads to confirm they are not misleading. To this day, only the United States and New Zealand allow for pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers.