Doctors Sell Out To Drug Companies For The Price of A Meal at McDonalds

A new study paints a disturbing picture of lobbyists’ reach


Today in “ugh”:

Drug company-sponsored meals tied to more prescriptions

Researchers have found that, after eating out just once with drug company lobbyists, doctors are much more likely to prescribe brand-name drugs rather than the equally effective but cheaper generics.

doctors who received even one sponsored meal from one of the pharmaceutical companies were more likely to prescribe the target drug over a generic alternative, compared to doctors who did not receive sponsored meals. As the number of meals and meal value increased, relative prescribing rates also increased, according to a report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

How much more likely? Up to 70% more likely, in one case. Twice as likely in another.

And how much does it take to get doctors to prioritize profits over patients? As little as $12, or about what it would cost for a couple to eat out at McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, the price of brand-name medications only goes up, becoming ruinous to some, entirely unaffordable to others.

Patients Struggle With High Drug Prices

The pharmaceutical industry, after a long drought, has begun to produce more innovative treatments for serious diseases that can extend life and often have fewer side effects than older treatments. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved 41 new drugs, the most in nearly two decades.

The catch is their cost. Recent treatments for hepatitis C, cancer and multiple sclerosis that cost from $50,000 annually to well over $100,000 helped drive up total U.S. prescription-drug spending 12.2% in 2014, five times the prior year’s growth rate, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. High drug prices can translate to patient costs of thousands of dollars a year. Out-of-pocket prescription-drug costs rose 2.7% in 2014, according to CMS.

Why are drug companies allowed to advertise at all — to the general public or to medical professionals? Earlier this year, Times reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote a lengthy piece about the billions spent on marketing.

The United State and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow consumer advertising for drugs. The American Medical Association recommended a ban last year on advertising for drugs and medical devices directed toward consumers. The group was concerned “about the negative impact of commercially driven promotions” on health care and costs, said Dr. Patrice A. Harris, the chairwoman-elect of the association, in issuing the decision. “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

As patients, the burden increasingly falls on us to 1) ignore the ad campaigns directed at us to get us excited about drugs we don’t need, and 2) ask questions, even make demands, of doctors. When I was pregnant on a high-deductible plan, I had to push back a lot when practitioners recommended yet another scan or fact-finding mission. The answer I received to “Is this test really necessary?” was usually “No.” Likewise, the answer to “Is there a generic that’s just as good and won’t bankrupt me?” will probably be “Yes.”

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