No Rx cure

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Advertising industry organizations in Washington are right to be alarmed-and angry-about ideas circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives this summer for suppressing direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs.

Thanks to DTC advertising, there has been an explosion in the amount of information reaching U.S. consumers about prescription products. It's commercial speech, to be sure, which taints its "value" so far as many advertising critics are concerned. But DTC ads have made more consumers more aware of prescription products that might benefit them than at any time in our history.

With this knowledge, consumer spending on prescription drugs has sharply increased. For health insurance plans that provide drug coverage, costs are substantial. As Congress mulls providing drug coverage to seniors under Medicare, it too is concerned. Some in the House evidently think part of the answer is to crimp ad spending through penalties of one sort or another in hopes this will somehow lead to lower costs.

Our drug-patent system is more responsible than advertising for high prescription prices. Advertising doesn't become an anti-social business activity just because the advertised product is under patent. Moreover, advertising is already being smartly employed by some big insurers to encourage doctors and patients to consider low-cost generics as soon as patents on brand-name drugs expire.

If government policy makers don't like drug industry prices or profits, let them use what clout they have as big customers to get better deals. Seeking to scapegoat advertising expenditures for high drug costs and to muzzle this ad-driven flow of information to the public is an unlikely solution to the drug cost problem, and a poor bargain for consumers.

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