There are many problems with the costs of prescription drugs, everything from crony capitalism to government getting in the way and actually making the cost of medications more expensive.
But a recent article from NPR highlighted another disturbing trend, and also raised ethical issues about the relationship between doctors and “Big Pharma”.
The article, “Drug-Company Payments Mirror Doctors’ Brand-Name Prescribing” tells the unfortunate story of how doctors prescriptions for medications is proportional to the amount of money that they receive from the manufacturer of a medication.
For the longest time, doctors disputed these findings, and additionally there was not any evidence to support the allegations of watchdog groups…until now.
As the article states…
A ProPublica (is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest) analysis has found that doctors who receive payments from the medical industry do indeed prescribe drugs differently on average than their colleagues who don’t. And the more money they receive, the more brand-name medications they tend to prescribe.
We matched records on payments from pharmaceutical and medical device makers in 2014 with corresponding data on doctors’ medication choices in Medicare’s prescription drug program.
Doctors who got money from drug and device makers prescribed a higher percentage of brand-name drugs overall than doctors who didn’t, our analysis showed. Even those who simply got meals from companies prescribed more brand-name drugs, on average. Moreover, as payments increased, brand-name prescribing rates tended to as well.
Doctors who received more than $5,000 from companies in 2014 typically had the highest brand-name prescribing percentages. Among internists who received no payments, for example, the average brand-name prescribing rate was about 20 percent, compared to about 30 percent for those who received more than $5,000.
To me, this is amazing. There are so many things wrong here that is defies description.
First, let’s talk about generic alternatives. It is a well established fact that generic have the same level of potency as a brand name alternative, and are much cheaper.
A generic drug is identical — or bioequivalent — to a brand name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use.
This is straight from the FDA website. These payments are a way around this to get patients to pay the maximum amount for their medications.
As the article continues…
Numerous studies show that generics, which must meet rigid Food and Drug Administration standards, work as well as name brands for most patients. Brand-name drugs typically cost more than generics and are more heavily advertised. Although some medications do not have exact generic versions, there usually is a similar one in the same category. In addition, when it comes to patient satisfaction, there isn’t much difference between brands and generics, according to data collected by the website Iodine, which is building a repository of user reviews on drugs.
So to sum up the article…
It again confirms the prevailing wisdom … that there is a relationship between payments and brand-name prescribing,” said Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who provided guidance on early versions of ProPublica’s analysis. “This feeds into the ongoing conversation about the propriety of these sorts of relationships. Hopefully we’re getting past the point where people will say, ‘Oh, there’s no evidence that these relationships change physicians’ prescribing practices.’
I could go on quoting the article, but that isn’t going to help anyone. The point is…
- Be aware that your doctor might not have your best interests at heart
- Make sure to check out my series on prescription drug costs to get more information on how to talk to your doctor and how to save on the medications you are taking
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