November 23, 2009 / 11:55 PM / 10 years ago

Consumer drug ads drive up health costs -US study

* Ad campaign for Plavix drove up Medicaid costs for drug

* Ads did not boost number of prescriptions - study finds

CHICAGO, Nov 23 (Reuters) - When consumer advertising began for the popular blood-thinner Plavix, Medicaid insurance programs for the poor and disabled spent millions more on the drug, even though the ads did not tempt doctors to write more prescriptions, researchers reported on Monday.

They said the study suggested that while ads might not directly increase the number of prescriptions, they still affect the cost of publicly funded healthcare because drugmakers appear to build the cost of the ads into their prices.

“Consequently, payers and policymakers should appropriately still be concerned about direct-to-consumer advertising for publicly funded reimbursement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid,” Michael Law of the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues wrote in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The team studied pharmacy data on Plavix or clopidogrel, the $9 billion-a-year seller made by Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY.N). They looked at 27 Medicaid programs from 1999 through 2005.

Plavix is used widely to treat heart attack patients. It works in a similar way to aspirin by stopping platelets — tiny blood cells vital for the normal clotting process — from clumping together.

From 1999 to 2000, there were no consumer-directed ads for Plavix. But from 2001 to 2005, U.S. advertising spending for Plavix topped $350 million, or an average of $70 million a year.

During the study period, doctors servicing Medicaid patients did not change the prescribing trends, but the amount of money spent by Medicaid on the drug rose dramatically.

They said industry analysts suggest that because direct-to-consumer advertising increases sales, it allows companies to spread out their costs, making them more affordable for everyone,

But that only is true if drug prices fall, Law and colleagues said.

“Our study of clopidogrel use in Medicaid provides no evidence that direct-to-consumer advertising increased the number of units dispensed or reduces the cost per unit sold,” they wrote.

They said more studies should look at the effects of other drugs on costs in other settings as many countries consider allowing drug companies to start targeting consumers with advertising within their borders. (Editing by Peter Cooney) ((julie.steenhuysen@thomsonreuters.com ; +1 312 408 8131)

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