Over the past several months, it has become quite evident that the pharmaceutical industry is trying hard to change its public image. Currently, there is a strong distrust of drug companies by ordinary Americans. In my opinion, this distrust has been “earned” by the drug companies and will be hard to shake. In recent opinion polls the drug industry ranked among the least trusted industries in the country. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in January found that only 3% of people polled thought that drug companies were working for the public good. Significantly, it showed that 76% thought the companies were mostly interested in making a profit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers weren’t much worse for the industry at present.
I predict that the drug companies will work extra hard in the coming weeks to revamp their image. It appears that expanded access to low-cost drugs for the poor will be one of the methods used. Over the past year, the industry’s trade association set up the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which includes a website and hotline staffed by 450 operators to help consumers enroll in programs that give discounted drugs to the poor and uninsured. The companies spent millions advertising the partnership. The industry’s trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, hired a new top lobbyist, former Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA), who had headed the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Tauzin, who has been a great friend of the drug companies, has a pretty tough row to hoe. His charge is to win back the public trust. It appears that Tauzin has his work cut out on this project.
The American people are having a difficult time understanding how the drug companies can continue to increase the retail price of their drugs. The industry is making record profits and many of their customers are really hurting financially. The local drug stores are making modest profits so they can’t be blamed for the large price increases. Pharmaceutical costs are clearly out of hand. While prescription drugs account for only about 10% of overall health care expenditures, they make up nearly a quarter of consumer’s out-of-pocket costs. The drug industry’s direct-to-consumer advertising of their drugs makes things even worse. Consumers are paying for that advertising and without question this adds greatly to the price of drugs.
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