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Is Your Doctor Paid Off With Big Pharma Spending?

Lost in the healthcare debate is the serious problem of Big Pharma spending on marketing, advertising, and physician courting. While legislators and the public argue of the future of ObamaCare, pharmaceutical firms are putting down serious cash to ensure their drugs stay in your life no matter what.

It’s no longer about your good health, preventing pain, or extending life. Large pharmaceutical companies around the world are spending more on marketing and advertising than they do on research and development, according to York University studies of pharmaceutical promotion. The net result is that what happens to you in the doctor’s office is increasingly driven by Big Pharma marketing initiatives.

Molding Your Doctor

Doctors hotly deny that pharmaceutical companies influence their behavior, but that’s not what the numbers say. For every $1 a pharmaceutical company spends promoting its drugs with physicians, the return on investment (ROI) averages $1.72 in prescription dollars – but it can shoot as high as $10 for every $1 spent when you look at the most aggressively marketed drugs.

It’s not just direct physician spending (speakers fees, gifts from pharmaceutical reps) that counts. If the pharmaceutical company sponsors a medical conference or continuing education event, each $1 spent on the event turns into $3.56 in drug sales. Your doctor goes hoping to learn something new and comes back with a new mindset instead.

What if your doctor tries to fight that? Many doctors have a policy of not dealing with pharmaceutical representatives, and they don’t go to conferences. So they’re immune from Big Pharma influences, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong!

All doctors read some kind of medical journal, specialty surgical publication, or physician-specific magazine. Big Pharma loves to advertise in these publications, because for each $1 spent advertising in a medical journal or publication, the ROI is a stunning $5 in drug sales.

So much for their denials! Doctors may think they’re making their own decisions, but the influence of Big Pharma is everywhere in the medical industry. From direct contact to filling glossy medical magazines with advertising, pharmaceutical companies are spending an average of $61,000 per physician, per year to move their drugs.

Working the System

This heavy spending by Big Pharma isn’t likely to stop since the ROIs are so good. Pharmaceutical companies are even willing to pay big fines to keep behaving as they please in the marketplace. Over the last two decades, pharmaceutical firms have paid the government $19.8 billion to settle claims of violations of the Fraud Claim Act, illegal promotion of off-label uses for medications, and overcharging Medicare patients.

In the last five years, the size and pace of the settlement announcements has increased. Yet even though the amounts of the fines are going up, the profits for Big Pharma are going up even faster. As a result, they can effectively do as they please with their marketing arms.

What’s Next?

Faced with such a well-financed and poorly regulated industry, your doctor doesn’t really stand a chance. The situation is so far out of control that even members of Congress – who experience more than $150 million in direct pharmaceutical lobbying annually – have put forth a motion to make pharmaceutical companies reveal where and how they are spending their money.

The disclosure requirement is limited to firms who have at least one product covered by Medicaid or Medicare. It covers everything from royalty payments for device development to small items, like free food provided at a medical event. However, the proposal is being delayed by lobbyists (surprise, surprise), and there is no word on when it will go into effect. Violators would have to pay $10,000 per item undisclosed, but given that Big Pharma happily settles multiple million-dollar claims each year, that doesn’t seem like much of a penalty even if the law is enacted.

There’s no denying that the system is a mess. The ObamaCare debate keeps public attention elsewhere, but informed consumers need to know what Big Pharma is doing while everyone’s distracted. It’s the only way you’ll have a chance to protect your health from over-medication when you go to the doctor’s office!

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