Posted at 5:02 AM on May 9, 2008
by Tim Nelson
Congress opened hearings yesterday on direct-to-consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals, lead by U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan.
Television commercials for Lipitor featuring Robert Jarvik were the immediate cause of the uproar. Pfizer in February pulled the ads for the cholesterol drug starring the creator of the artificial heart (never mind the puzzling logic of that endorsement) over objections to featuring an actual medical professional's endorsement.
But there's more to it than the ethical issue here. Think of the money.
Direct-to-consumer drug ad spending has grown from about $1 billion 10 years ago to about $5 billion now, according to the Wall Street Journal. About half of that goes to television.
Do the math: maybe 3 percent of the television advertising industry's $80 billion revenue comes from drug companies. That means the likes of Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis are effectively paying for something like two minutes of every hour of television.
(It seems like even more than that if you watch cable for any amount of time.)
Drug manufacturers have long argued that marketing costs aren't unduly inflating the cost of medicine, at least not above the rise in the Consumer Price Index.
But all that money's not coming out of thin air, either. Whatever you think of the change in the price of medicine, there's only one real place to get billions to spend on drug marketing: from the people that take the pills. Or injections. Or whatever.
Granted, $2.5 billion in advertising expenditures would be a drop in the bucket of the $2.3 trillion Americans spent on health care last year. But if you're taking name-brand Lipitor, for instance, at $100 a month or so, it still means you're feeding more than a buck a year to your television.
And if that's not the only drug you're taking, or not even the most expensive drug you're taking, you (or you and your insurance company's clients) might be paying $2, $3, maybe even more, in annual medical costs to keep the MHz flowing into your television receiver. (And, to a much lesser extent, the magazine coming to your mailbox or the radio waves to your car antenna.)
I'm not going to argue about the truthfulness of the ads, or the medical or legal implications of direct to consumer drug marketing. And the media have an honorable place in promulgating medical information.
But given all that we ask of our health care system and the many ways it falls short, doesn't it seem just a little bit absurd to ask it, too, to help bankroll the likes of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice and reruns of the Golden Girls?(3 Comments)
Posted at 1:53 PM on May 9, 2008
by Tim Nelson
Minnesota celebrates 150 years of statehood this weekend. Raise a toast to Pig's Eye Perrant, Joe Rolette and the rest of the state's scoundrels: the one-eyed barkeepers, bootleggers and ne'er-do-wells won't get celebrated any other way.
Even better yet, turn out for the Sesquicentennial Wagon Train and see what transportation emitted before greenhouse gasses. There's a whole trail of it stretching back to Cannon Falls this week.
I caught up with the wagons as they were breaking camp in Hastings this morning. Wagon master Jon Olson was leading a string of 20 wagons out of the park down by the Mississippi. It's a bit of a motley fleet: there are buggies and grain haulers and rubber-tired hay wagons in the caravan. Some are restored antiques, some came right out of a welding shop.
Rick Schmidt, a retired carpenter from Lakeville, built his double-box grain wagon out of ash from scratch. That's him at right. "I thought it would be a hoot," he said of the project. His wife didn't initially see the charm, he admits. "But now she thinks its pretty nice."
The most interesting thing, though, is that this may very well be the last time in history you get to see an actual wagon train go through Minneapolis and St. Paul proper. They're headed to Inver Grove Heights this afternoon and they're supposed to be at Fort Snelling by lunch time tomorrow.
The crew likes visitors: they had 100 people in Hastings for a chuckwagon meal and some dance music.
From Fort Snelling on Sunday, the wagons will start up 54th Street, Minnehaha Drive, Godfrey and 46th Street in Minneapolis about 11 a.m. They'll hit St. Paul about noon and go up Ford Parkway, Cleveland and then down Summit Avenue to the Capitol in the afternoon. The gawking will be good, if Hastings was any indication this morning.2 Comments)