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AMA: Drug Ads Rankle, Guns a Public Health Crisis

News  |  By HealthLeaders Media News  
   June 20, 2016

AMA delegates debated the merits of incentives for direct-to-consumer drug advertising, and adopted several new policies during the group's annual meeting in Chicago this month.

A proposal to eliminate a tax incentive for direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads, presented at the AMA annual meeting in Chicago this month, was ultimately rejected. 

Delegates at the meeting bandied about the idea of "eliminating their marketing costs as a federal tax deduction," reports MD Magazine. But an outright ban of direct-to-consumer ads would "raise complex freedom of speech issues," the FDA says.

Although the AMA has no direct power to ban drug advertising—that power lies with the FDA—it has long been critical of prescription DTC ads, and in November, formally called for their ban.

AMA Board Chair-elect Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, in a statement in November, said  that month's "vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices."

Among delegates who opposed the tax idea, was one who said he didn't think that the AMA could "impose our wishes on the IRS, it's a valid business expense…should we not allow ice cream ads, since ice cream may contribute to obesity?"

The AMA might not have to impose its wishes on the IRS, though.

In March, Senator Al Franken (D-MN), a member of the Senate Health Committee, introduced legislation to end a tax deduction that allows pharmaceutical  companies to write off the money they spend on prescription drug advertising.

"As it stands now, prescription drug companies have been spending billions of advertising dollars trying to encourage Americans to buy the most expensive drugs—even when cheaper, equally effective drugs are on the market," Franken said in a statement.

"My bill would end tax breaks that encourage brand name drug advertising, and I'm going to be fighting to get it passed into law. This is just a commonsense measure to help cut down healthcare costs."

"Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate."

AMA Meeting Recap

The AMA did adopt several new policies on the final day of its annual meeting on June 15. It called for:

  • The pharmaceutical industry to fund a program to dispose of unwanted medications as hazardous waste
  • Parity laws to require private insurers to cover telemedicine-provided services comparable to that of in-person services
  • A warning on lawyer ads about the dangers of pharmaceuticals that patients should consult with a physician before discontinuing medication
  • Requiring physical therapists and other non-physicians practicing dry needling to have standards that are similar to the ones for training, certification and continuing education that exist for acupuncture
  • Educating consumers on the safety benefits of protective eyewear when using air guns

It also supports:

  • The American Board of Preventive Medicine's establishment of addiction medicine as a multispecialty-sponsored subspecialty
  • Legislation to remove all sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Five states no longer charge a sales tax on these products and more are considering similar legislation. 

The AMA also called gun violence a "public health crisis" and "resolved to actively lobby Congress to overturn legislation that for 20 years has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from researching gun violence."

It also "affirmed a comprehensive update of the nearly 170-year-old AMA Code of Medical Ethics."

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