TV Drug Ads Will Soon Include Prices: Will It Help Consumers?

You hear a lot about side effects in prescription drug television commercials. You’ll hear prices soon, too. Getty Images

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You don’t have to watch television long before an ad for a prescription drug comes on the screen.

It’s typically a brief testimonial of the benefits of a drug on a specific condition, most often a relatable “patient” walking around doing enjoyable everyday things such as going to a farmer’s market or walking through the park.

Meanwhile, a narrator lists off the drug’s side effects, which may include death.

But there’s always one important thing missing from those ads: the price.

Most doctors prescribing these medications don’t even know how much you’ll pay out of pocket or whether it’s covered by your insurance. Those decisions are made by someone else.

While the true cost of a drug is not a simple question to answer, given the complicated mosaic of drug pricing factors such as insurance coverage and manufacturer rebates, it’s more likely you’ll soon start seeing a variation of those costs, along with the typical listing of potential side effects.

That’s provided you live in one of two countries where advertising prescription-only medication directly to consumers is allowed.

Prices coming to television

The whole purpose of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising is to get patients to go to their doctors and inquire about a brand-name drug, which is why most ads’ “action item” is telling you to “talk to your doctor.”

DTC is also a practice that’s banned in every country except for the United States and New Zealand.

Research from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says primary care physicians and specialists felt that “DTC confuses patients about the relative risks and benefits of drugs.” Three-fourths of the more than 900 physicians surveyed believe the ads make patients “think drugs work better than they really do.”

Earlier this month, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson announced that by the end of the current quarter, the company will be including both the list price and potential patient out-of-pocket costs for its medicines in TV ads, starting with the blood thinner Xarelto by Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

In the company announcement, Scott White, the North American chair of Johnson & Johnson-owned Janssen, said his firm is starting with its most popular medication to see how the information lands with consumers.

The company plans to expand drug prices to advertising for other medications.

“Transparency is fundamental to achieving a more sustainable, results-based health system that delivers greater access to care at a more manageable cost,” the announcement said.

Sean Karbowicz, the founder and general manager of MedSavvy, which tracks drug pricing, says it’s hard to say at this point how many drugs this will affect, but he did say Johnson & Johnson’s decision “is opening a door that is sure to have positive ripple effects.”

“Clearly, the industry is getting pressure to be more transparent, which is a great thing for consumers,” Karbowicz told Healthline.

Part of that pressure is from the Trump administration, which last May unveiled “American Patients First,” its blueprint aimed at lowering drug costs and out-of-pocket expenses for consumers.

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