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Why putting drug prices in ads is a bad idea | STAT

When the Trump administration released its blueprint for lowering drug prices a couple months ago, it floated a trial balloon: What if we required manufacturers to include drug prices in direct-to-consumer advertising?

It’s unclear if the intent of doing that is to make prices more transparent to consumers, to “shame” manufacturers into lowering prices, to discourage spending on direct-to-consumer advertising, or all of the above.

A recently released Kaiser Health Tracking Poll explored what the American public thought of the idea. Not surprisingly, 76 percent were in favor of it, which nearly matched the percentage of Americans from a March Kaiser poll who said drug prices are too high.

It’s a great populist idea, but would it really help consumers or drive down pricing? No, on both fronts, and here’s why.

Once that price flashes up on the screen, how is a consumer going to make use of it? Drug prices vary considerably from one disease or treatment category to another, and often even within a category. Consumers will see a single price in a 30- or 60-second ad, but won’t know what other medicines in the category cost. Assuming they remember the ad and then go research other prices in the category, how will they determine the relative value of a treatment, and whether it’s the right one for them? And if they see several ads in an evening for different conditions — say one for anxiety and another for cancer — they’ll see wildly different prices, maybe by orders of magnitude. Rather than add clarity, these variances will only increase confusion.

Selecting a treatment for a disease isn’t like choosing a car. When car companies show the manufacturer’s suggested retail price in ads, consumers generally know where that brand of car fits in the hierarchy of luxury to economy cars and where it stands in the spectrum of quality and reliability. They know what features they’re looking for. They’re told what rebates and financing deals are available. They can figure out what it will cost them, and they know they can go out and buy it without restriction.

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Why putting drug prices in ads is a bad idea.