One concern about having millions more Americans covered by health insurance is the relative dearth of primary-care physicians.
Some have used that as a reason to say we shouldn’t insure so many Americans. You know, those who have it ought to have it, and those who can’t ought to have squat.
A doctor shortage is a legitimate problem. However, America’s pharmaceutical industry may have come up with an answer: We don’t need physicians per se.
Just listen to TV commercial after TV commercial for prescription drugs, and understand that your doctor doesn’t know much of anything.
Doesn’t know about Cymbalta.
Doesn’t know about Lyrica.
Doesn’t know about Spiriva.
Heck, your doctor must not have heard about COPD at all. Ask him or her to research it. (COPD is pretty serious, Doc. For those who have it, it’s like an elephant sitting on your chest.)
If what you are about to read in the next few paragraphs is seen as criticism of America’s drug makers, that’s not so. They and their TV ads are serving the national interest by instructing Americans to inform their doctors about all of these drugs and the associated and varied, and sometimes dire, side effects.
What are America’s doctors doing when they should be watching TV and learning about Spiriva, Lyrica, Cymbalta and COPD?
Ask your doctor. Apparently he doesn’t have a clue, or cable, or satellite.
At this point you may be asking, “Hey, what became of my friend Lipitor? Why can’t I turn on a TV at any time, day or night, and not see another commercial for the anti-cholesterol drug?” Good question. After all, don’t people still have high cholesterol? And don’t doctors need to be asked by their patients if Lipitor is right for them?
Well, roughly a year ago, with its patent expiring and cheaper versions available, Pfizer pulled the plug on a $271 million-a-year on-air, print and online ad campaign for Lipitor.
The company also stopped sending representatives to doctors to ask them if they per chance knew about Lipitor, occasionally offering monetary or other incentives to remind them after they left.
Drug makers tell us that the central reason why their wares command such high prices is the cost of research and development, the patent process, federal red tape.
A report released by London-based medical journal BMJ says, however, that drug companies spend $19 on promotion and marketing for every dollar spent on research and development.
No one is asserting that this is a faulty business model. And by the standards of American capitalism, a business model that works is beyond challenge.
Of course, medicine is one of those areas where actual capitalism is a stretch. Insurers, drug patent holders and hospitals hold veritable monopoly status. The consumer has next to no choice, particularly when an elephant is on his or her chest.
So, to make things right, are we to rely on doctors, who obviously don’t watch enough television to know? Or do we even need doctors?
Indeed, it would appear that all we need, in the “market” economy that has dictated medical care for too long, is to set the patient before a bank of televisions. Using interactive devices and an unlimited rotisserie of drug commercials, he or she could choose the remedy “right for you” and get it, push-button style, with scrip writers in Far East call centers at the ready 24/7. In a market economy, the customer is always right.
As said, this commentary should not be taken as criticism of the pharmaceutical industry. Let us praise it. Without its long-winded commercials targeted at limited audiences (erectile dysfunction, Kiddo?), we wouldn’t have the great and vast televised choices we now know.
Without drug commercials, let’s face it: The average cable-connected house would have 257 channels with nothing on.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.