The $790 billion stimulus plan signed into law a few weeks ago is getting attacked from all sides. Some say its spends too much, some say it doesn’t go far enough. But there’s one part of the stimulus that may be an important first step in lowering health insurance premiums by bringing down the cost of drugs.
A recent article in Slate.com uses Sally Field’s ubiquitous Boniva ads as a launching point for criticism of the current healthcare system, and explains how the new stimulus package might help. The osteoporosis drug is singled out because it's one of the most heavily marketed and widely used drugs on the market. According to the author, it's popularity is particularly egregious because there's an equally effective generic osteoporosis treatment that costs almost one-third the price of Boniva.
Obviously, drug companies like Roche, who makes Boniva, have the resources to get big names like Sally Field to promote their drugs. They also have the money to educate doctors about their products. (I’ve worked in several high-end restaurants and have witnessed firsthand how drug companies wine and dine doctors while presenting a PowerPoint analysis of their products.) Part of what makes these drugs so expensive is the money it costs to take doctors out to dinner, pay Sally Field, and get the airtime to convince consumers they need Boniva.
The stimulus package would help restore some balance to the healthcare system by funding independent, comparative-effective research to tune of $1.1 billion. When determining the most suitable treatment for a patient, doctors would be able to reference government research as well as drug-company research. In some instances, big drug companies may have a patent on the most effective treatment. But in others, doctors may be inclined to recommend less expensive drugs. If doctors start prescribing drugs based on their effectiveness rather than the influence of the manufacturer, the cost of everyone’s insurance premiums will go down.
Sure, this is just one step in making healthcare affordable for everyone.