Medicare Amendment Puts Issue in Spotlight

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WASHINGTON ( -- Congress is preparing to debate legislation that seeks to curb direct-to-consumer drug advertising.

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., filed an amendment to pending Medicare prescription-drug benefit legislation before both houses of Congress would require DTC drug ads to offer more information about risks, side effects and effectiveness of the advertised drugs. It also calls for a quicker review of ads and a fine of up to $10 million if companies don't pull ads found to violate the new restrictions.

Balanced information
Sen. Edwards, whose amendment is co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the curbs would be a way to ensure drug ads are more honest and consumers get balanced information.

"Every time you turn on the TV, you get bombarded with drug commercials that promise miracles," Sen. Edwards, a Democratic candidate for president, said in a statement. "At a time when drug prices are skyrocketing, the last thing we need is big drug companies spending billions on misleading ads. We need to get critical health information out of the fine print so that consumers are informed."

The proposal immediately prompted a warning from ad groups.

ANA: 'This is a ban'
"This is a ban on broadcast TV DTC ads," said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers.

The amendment would require DTC drug ads to provide a "fair balance" between information on a drug's effectiveness and its side effects, and that the description of the medicine's effectiveness should include how the drug compares with similar ones on the market. The proposal also requires the ad be balanced not just in what it claims, but how the claims are made. For instance, in broadcast ads, oral and visual presentations should be weighted equally between all claims and in print ads, the listing of side effects would be in the same type size as effectiveness claims.

$2.3 billion in ad spending
Ad groups on Monday night said passage of the amendment would effectively kill broadcast DTC ads, which represent $2.3 billion in advertising annually, most of it broadcast.

"This is a ban under the guise of information disclosure," Mr. Jaffe said. "This would extend a very long ad and create such a tremendous amount of visual clutter as to make the advertising counterproductive."

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