Health Business Blog

Health care business consultant and policy expert David E. Williams share his views

J&J decides to balance drug risks and benefits in DTC ads

Saturday I posted about an Economist editorial calling for an increased emphasis on risk/benefit assessment of marketed drugs. The editorial suggested it would be in the drug companies’ long term interest to embrace this approach.

Today’s Wall St. Journal reports that J&J is:

…unveiling a new approach to TV and print campaigns… putting drug risks on a more equal footing with drug benefits.

In a speech Friday to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), where he is now the chairman, J&J CEO William Weldon said:

“If our industry is to retain the important right to talk directly to consumers, each of our companies in its own way must work to make DTC what it very definitely can be –a way to educate and counsel consumers in improving their health.”

From Beanie Babies to pacemakers

Four $6000 pacemakers were stolen from a Sacramento hospital and at least two were sold on eBay for about $200 each. One was implanted by a physician in Arizona, another was seized from his clinic, and two are missing. Beyond the original theft, it’s not clear if any laws were broken.

Taking it out on the uninsured

An article from The Morning News in Arkansas discusses the standard but outrageous practice of hospitals billing the uninsured at a rate that is a multiple of what insurance companies pay. Ironically, The American Hospital Association has contended that if it offers discounts to the uninsured it may fun afoul of Federal billing rules. Apparently someone has to pay the retail rate, and it’s those unfortunate people who don’t have insurance.

The article notes that this situation helps explain why such a high percentage of personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills, as reported in a recent Harvard study.

The newspaper suggests that patients demand a discount rather than paying their bills.

New book: Hope or Hype

Today’s Boston Globe includes a review of Hope or Hype, the Obsession with Medical Advances and the High Cost of False Promises, by Dr. Richard A. Deyo and Donald L. Patrick. I haven’t read the book but it sounds interesting.

The growth of modestly effective but costly treatments ”is the main reason why health insurance costs are rising so fast, with so little to show for it in terms of longevity or other public health statistics” in which other industrialized nations outdo us, according to the authors.

Healing the pharmaceutical industry

The March 19 edition of the Economist includes a special report and accompanying editorial about recent problems in the drug business. The authors note that risks and benefits are well assessed before a drug is approved, but they call for an increased emphasis on continued risk/benefit assessment post-approval.

On the risk side this would include collecting better information about side effects in real-world settings and possibly giving the FDA more leverage to influence how drugs are marketed.

On the benefits side, the Economist advocates a…

“…more systematic, rigorous and impartial assessment of the benefits of prescription medicines and a willingness to pay top dollar for those drugs which truly represent an advantage over existing treatments and less for those that do not.”

“In the long run, it is better for [the drug firms], as well as the public, to have pricing based on reliable evidence than on politicians currying political favor.”

Sounds reasonable to me.