Soon, all those direct-to-consumer advertisements we see on TV will include drug prices, which recently started with Johnson & Johnson. As a nation, we know the cost of medications has risen to the point to be unaffordable for many. The supposition is that knowing costs up front will be helpful to patients.

Will This Make Any Difference?

Including drug prices in television ads will make no significant difference because:

  • Most patients don’t pay the whole cost of medication themselves but rather depend on their healthcare coverage to pay. According to most plans, they will pay a copay of varying amounts depending on tier level, unless the medication is not on the insurance company formulary. Usually when a medication is not covered, patients opt not to take them.
  • The medications advertised on TV are brand name products whose base price is probably out-of-reach for most patients.
  • TV ads focus on one product only. As physicians, we need to present all options to patients. These ads neglect the fact that there are other options available that may be less costly.
  • Pharmacies set their own prices. I have seen wide ranges between pharmacies only a few miles away from each other. Advertising the price on TV does nothing to tell the patients what the price will actually be when they go to pick up their prescriptions in the pharmacy. However, this may make retail pharmacies more accountable for their prices.
  • Patients may be turned off from a specific medication just based on price. In turn, this may prevent them from seeking care for their medical problems.

While increasing cost transparency in healthcare is always a good thing, it should be done in a responsible manner. It is helpful for patients to know all the options that are available for their medical conditions. When I present the options to a patient, I advise what I think is the best treatment option for them. This is based on medical knowledge and patient choice. Yes, we all need to be more cost-conscious in healthcare, but medical decisions should not be made just based on cost considerations. Rather, evidence-based medicine should be the norm and the best clinical outcome the desired outcome. Costs then can be considered after best medicine care is offered.

  • Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP

    Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP, is Owner of Girgis Family Medicine LLC. Currently affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital, Linda also writes for Sermo, Physician’s Weekly, the Library of Medicine, and others.

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