Drug bill could target DTC

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Signaling that the congressional battle over direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads is back on, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., has told media lobbyists he intends to include DTC language in a Medicare prescription drug benefit he will unveil in the next week or two.

The move comes only a week after House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., said he had appealed to Rep. Thomas to avoid DTC limits in crafting the legislation.

Ad groups said Rep. Thomas told the lobbyists the bill includes DTC curbs.

Other health industry players, however, said the legislation directs the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to conduct an actuarial review of DTC's impact on federal spending and may also require pharmaceutical companies to let the Food and Drug Administration review their ads before they are aired. Many pharmaceutical companies already voluntarily pre-review their ads with the FDA.

An aide declined to detail Rep. Thomas' statement to lobbyists or what DTC elements would be in the legislation. "At this point a lot can happen to the legislation," said Christin Tinsworth, press secretary for the Ways and Means Committee.

A LOT AT STAKE

Much is at stake: DTC outlays grew to $2.5 billion in media spending last year. The growth has brought a backlash as some critics blame the ads for rising prescription drug costs.

Advertising groups said last week they are mounting a major effort to convince Congress that any attempt to curb DTC ad spending would be both unwise and unconstitutional. They said the effect would be to potentially curb communications of lifesaving remedies and drive up health-care costs as expensive hospital stays replace cheaper pills.

"The burden is on us to convince him that DTC is not the place to look for economies," said Dick O'Brien, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

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