Thursday, March 03, 2005


That toadying hack Alan Greenspan was sounding the alarm yesterday to Congress on Social Security and Medicare — fellow Federal Reserve officials Janet Yellen and Edward Gramlich were saying similar things elsewhere — but the truth is that Medicare, like all health care, is by far the more urgent problem for the U.S. economy.

Health care costs are, sorry, growing like a cancer. Part of that is because drugs are expensive. Drugs are expensive, we’re told, because biotechnology companies must spend big to develop and advertise them.


But since this is all necessary and yet all leading to an immense crisis in monetary and actual health, why not knock off the frivolous spending?

DTC Perspectives magazine (“The source for direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical marketing leaders”) hosted its DTC National Awards show in Boston last night at the Boston Marriott Copley Place Hotel, giving warm fuzzies in such categories as best direct-mail, print and broadcast advertising campaigns for drugs such as Avonex and Femara.

“It drew some 500 attendees,” writes John Strahinich in today’s Boston Herald, “most from out of town.”

Biotech folks from Cambridge are welcome to drive over to collect a few awards, running the cost of a T token or time in a parking garage. But hundreds of drug company employees flying in — how many in first- or business-class seats? — to stay at least one night in a Boston area hotel — the DTC room rate at the Copley Marriott was $189 a night, but rooms there can run as much as $1,800 — doesn’t sound like a good way to spend consumer dollars.

It sounds suspiciously, in fact, like an obscene waste of money. If only 400 of the attendees were from out of town, and each got a coach airplane ticket for $300 and took the cheapest room rate at the Copley for $200, then spent an expensed $100 for meals and taxis, never mind how much it cost to attend the DTC event itself, the consumer is looking at a minimum of $240,000 spent by the industry, or passed on to it by advertising execs who attended, on what are undeniably bullshit awards.

It’s doubtful anyone would want to spend a penny more on even the most vital drug knowing it’s going toward flying some biotech middle manager to Boston for an awards show, especially when the best judge of a drug ad is whether it sells the drug in the first place.

Having the drug work is a plus.

After cutting out empty awards shows for the ads, it’s time to cut out advertising altogether for prescription-only drugs and let doctors be responsible (in both senses of the word) for counseling patients on what’s best for them. The ad industry will survive. The DTC awards might not.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me, being allowed to advertise, was changed under the Clinton administration.

Scape7 said...

I can't see how that matters. If a policy doesn't work, and I think this one doesn't, it needs to be fixed or ended.

Anonymous said...

There's no doubt that drug companies are spending a ton on marketing.

I don't think the pricing of drugs could be any more gouging to the regular American. New drugs are expensive. But if it's a fabulous life-saving drug, they have indigent-patient programs, which I'm sure allows them to deduct their overpriced donations so they don't have to pay taxes. But their high prices have to cover the cost of what they donate, too. Their prices in other countries are more reasonable-- why? Because they don't have to be higher-- they're covering the whole cost of r&d on the dime of the Americans who actually pay for the drugs. Of course, insurers who offer drug coverage negotiate a discounted price for them to pay, so who is left paying the full cost? Joe American without a drug plan. Poor Joe should at least be getting a free pen or a clipboard with the name of the drug that he's funding, right? Or maybe he should get to attend one of the free lunches the drug companies provide to doctors. Doctors probably are conditioned to salivate at the word "lipitor" because it provides them with so many free meals.

Scape7 said...

I'm with you in spirit, but: No pens! No clipboards! Nothing that gives the drug companies more excuses to charge more!