Rising pharmaceutical costs has been an issue in healthcare for quite some time. Television advertising for prescription drugs has resulted in more patients demanding that their doctors give them specific prescriptions, even if something else -or nothing at all – may work better. This practice has been widely criticized, but is showing no signs of going away. More and more health insurance companies in Colorado are offering policies without prescription coverage, or with coverage for only generic medications. We’ve previously discussed the conflicts created by a lack of prescription coverage on health insurance, combined with in-your-face advertising for the newest medications. Not only do pharmaceutical companies market to the general population, but they also spend billions of dollars each year marketing their wares to doctors. Pharmaceutical reps have lavish expense accounts that they can use to provide meals, gifts, and even trips to doctors.
A sales pitch for a new medication might be done over a $200 dinner – all paid for by the pharmaceutical company. Many doctors claim that this does not influence their decisions with regards to which drugs to prescribe, but that’s tough to believe. Recently, a few medical schools have started teaching courses on how to challenge the sales pitches that the pharmaceutical reps present. So far only a handful of schools have addressed the practice of pharmaceutical marketing, and a few – including Yale, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania – have banned their doctors from accepting gifts from pharmaceutical reps. Obviously this type of education of doctors has met with resistance from the pharmaceutical industry. They claim that the reps are simply educating the doctors on the benefits of new drugs. But couldn’t education be done on a large scale at a no-frills conference? Or by succinct e-mails? Or by a simple meeting in the doctor’s office, with no gifts attached? Hopefully the practice of teaching doctors to avoid being taken in by fancy drug sales pitches will spread to all medical schools in the future.
Healthcare should be a collaboration between unbiased doctors and their patients. Perhaps small changes in the way pharmaceutical companies are allowed to market drugs could eventually lead to lower prices on prescriptions. If they’re not spending billions of dollars every year to market to doctors, they won’t have to charge as much for the drugs. Then perhaps health insurance companies wouldn’t be so inclined to offer policies without prescription coverage.