Drugmakers spend too much on marketing: Kaiser poll

Photo credit: Bill Brooks/Creative Commons

Government investigations into Valeant's pricing and patient-assistance practices along with ubiquitous media attention around the repricing of medications has done little to dull efforts to address public outcry about the rising cost of medicines.

The findings from a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation add to the growing body of evidence that drugmakers have become a major target in the debate over the rising costs of healthcare.

The Obama administration also announced Tuesday that it will host a public forum on drug prices and that speakers will include insurers, drugmakers, consumers and other stakeholders. The Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to host the forum on Nov. 20. Democrats from the Committee of Oversight & Government Reform also announced that they will launch an affordable-drug-pricing task force. The committee will hold a press conference tomorrow to discuss the actions it plans to take.

The majority of US adults—polled by the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll from October 13 through October 20—said government action against drug pricing should be a top priority for the President and Congress; drug companies spend too much money on marketing; and drugmakers have a lot of influence on the medicines that doctors choose to prescribe.

“People care about healthcare costs and prescription drugs are a clear way that they see those costs,” said Bianca Dijulio, associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation and one of the poll's authors. “It's one area where people have a close connection to how much things are costing them for healthcare.”

Medications for chronic conditions should be managed, too, according to those polled—with 77% agreeing that “making sure that high-cost drugs for chronic conditions such as HIV, hepatitis, mental illness and cancer are affordable to those who need them” should also be a top priority.

These findings come as more Americans are taking prescription drugs than were doing so 15 years ago. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association released Tuesday found that nearly three in five American adults take a prescription drug. Researchers found that 59% of people 20 years old and older reported the use of prescription drugs in 2011 to 2012, up from 51% in 1999 to 2000. Researchers pointed to the rising prevalence of obesity as a possible culprit, saying that eight of the 10 most commonly used drugs in the US treat cardiometabolic syndrome—a broad category that includes diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure.

In a response to the poll, PhRMA director of communications Holly Campbell said patients are “increasingly facing high cost-sharing as a result of their health insurance coverage.” She added that “to ensure progress continues and that patients can access the treatments they need without unnecessary barriers, we need a healthcare system that recognizes the value of medicines and incentives researchers...to develop new treatments and cures for patients.”

The survey's questions also asked how people view the pharma-doctor relationship and drug advertising.

The majority—67%—said that drug companies have “a lot of influence” over what drugs doctors prescribe. Fifty one percent of respondents also agreed that drug advertising is “mostly a good thing,” but 57% said that drugmakers spend too much on advertising to patients and doctors, and slightly more—62%—agreed that drugmakers spend too much money marketing their products to doctors.

Findings also shed light on how often patients discuss drugs they learned about in advertisements with their doctors. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they talked with their doctor about a drug based on an ad. Twelve percent said their doctor gave them the drug they asked about, while 14% said their doctor recommended a different prescription, and 15% recommended a behavior or lifestyle change. Seventy-one percent said they have not spoken to their doctor about a prescription drug after seeing an ad for it.

Most respondents said that drug ads only did a “fair” job explaining how effective a drug is in treating a specific condition compared to its competitors and that they did a “poor” job of explaining the typical cost of the drug being promoted.

Kaiser polled 1,203 US adults. The majority of the people polled said they were insured by their employer.