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US: FDA asks what would happen if drugs advertised their price?


(Source: The Wall Street Journal 2014-5-13)

If more prescription drug ads contained prices, would consumers and doctors ignore important information about safety and effectiveness?

Very few ads contain pricing or make cost comparisons, but the FDA is concerned such data may become a serious distraction. So the agency is planning a study to understand how pricing data may be perceived and the extent to which safety and effectiveness information can sway any impression that “price is the main factor to consider,” according to a notice in the Federal Register.

An FDA spokeswoman noted that drug makers are allowed to use pricing information in their advertising and, in fact, she said that some pricing data is seen in ads targeting both consumers and physicians. However, she acknowledged the agency does not track the number of ads that have run prices or price comparisons and could not say how often such ads have run.

The study will show three versions of a prescription drug ad to consumers who identify themselves as diabetics, as well as to general practitioners and specialists. One version will compare prices between two drugs and another ad will have pricing for just one drug. A third ad will have price comparisons, but state that actual costs may vary, along with safety and effectiveness information.

The initiative is getting under way at a time when there is increasing debate over the cost of medicines and the ability of consumers and governments to absorb rising prices. Last year, the average increase for brand-name prescription drugs, after discounts and rebates, rose between 9% and 10%, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare informatics.

Such increases have, of course, accelerated a pivot toward lower-cost generics, but there is growing concern some consumers may risk their health by failing to fill prescriptions. Meanwhile, professional groups representing oncologists and cardiologists are, for the first time, exploring ways to assess expensive drug costs in hopes of better understanding value before making treatment decisions.

Going forward, these developments suggest to some experts that pricing information may eventually appear with more regularity in product advertising as both consumers and physicians place increasing emphasis on affordability.

“I’ve not seen any [ads] that I can recall, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they start to appear,” says John Kamp, director for the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, a trade group for medical publishers and advertising agencies. As a possible example, he points to ads for biosimilars, which are copycat versions of expensive biologic drugs that are expected to be available in the US in coming years.

Examples, of a sort, do exist, though. Jay Carter, senior vice president at AbelsonTaylor, an advertising agency that works closely with drug makers, points to ads for co-pay cards, which are widely promoted to consumers as a way to lower costs for some medicines. “This is nicely disguised,” he says. “They may not have pricing, but they do say the drug will cost less, which is central to the promotion.”

Another example is the main page on the product web site for Granix, an injectable medicine marketed by Teva PharmaceuticalsTEVA -0.91% for mitigating white blood cell counts in certain cancer patients. Large lettering in the middle of the page encourages physicians and hospitals to “take a bite out” of costs. Alongside the message is a hard-to-miss picture of an apple with, of course, a bite taken out of it.

In small print, the site refers to acquisition costs, which is industry lingo for a manufacturer’s list price. But the site does not mention a specific price or compare costs and is also careful to say that suppliers should be contacted for actual pricing, an apparent nod to regulatory concerns.

A Teva spokeswoman said that the web site is “tailored for healthcare professionals and makes treating physicians and their staff aware that Granix is a low cost option.

At the end of the day, though, such promotions are, effectively, selling on price. And given the increasing emphasis on cost, the FDA may well be correct to sort out whether the suggestion of lower costs may skew the need to first determine whether or not a medicine is appropriate.

More Information on The Wall Street Journal