HOUSE MEASURE RULES OUT DTC BAN

Bill to Provide More Money to FDA to 'Monitor' Ad Content

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee today effectively ruled out government curbs on direct-to-consumer drug advertising as part of a House measure he will propose next week.

Rep. Bill Thomas is set to unveil his plan for a prescription drug benefit program for Medicare. The California Republican had proposed making drug advertising a key consideration in the programs.

But today Rep. Thomas said his legislation may include DTC-related language, but it would be about providing additional money for the Food and Drug Administration to review DTC advertising and perhaps money for a study of the effects of those ads. The proposed bill is strongly backed by the House Republican leadership and represents the GOP's effort to meet campaign promises of prescription drug benefit legislation.

$2.5 billion business
Since the FDA took

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the shackles off DTC ads in 1997, the advertising has continued to grow, topping $2.5 billion last year.

Although Rep. Thomas had previously discussed the possibility of the government reimbursing drugs expenses at lesser rates for heavily advertised drugs, he said today he wouldn't propose any DTC curbs unless the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., requested them to be included.

Rep. Tauzin has strongly objected to DTC restrictions.

Monitoring ads
"We may put some additional money in, because the first thing you want to do is monitor the ads content," Rep. Thomas said today. "The first step on direct-to-consumer advertising is to make sure that when it is done, it is done accurately. The FDA has made known to us that it would really appreciate a little more money to do the monitoring as it should be done."

Rep. Thomas said his bill puts administration of the Medicare benefit in the hands of prescription drug management companies that could set their own rules to control costs.

"In the real world, they can and do demand reimbursement rates for different types of drugs," he said.

The Senate is preparing its own prescription drug legislation which may include DTC curbs. Today Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., was circulating a draft of legislation that would try to limit the spending by barring drug companies from deducting ad or marketing costs that exceed research costs.

The congressman's statements would appear to make chances that Congress will impose any curbs on DTC advertising this year extremely unlikely even if it is able to reach agreement on a prescription drug benefit, which many congressional observers consider a long shot.

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