Healthcare is at the top of the list of societal problems in the U.S.
Healthcare interactions are unsatisfying to most people, costs are out of control and cost every American nearly $10,000 per person per year while bleeding 17.5% of GDP, more than any other nation on earth for a system that ranks low or last in quality compared to other developed countries. For a problem as big as healthcare, big enough to cripple the entire economy in addition to bankrupting more and more Americans, you would think that media reporting would be filled with debate, criticisms, and in-depth coverage about the problems in healthcare.
But there is something peculiar going on: Despite the enormity of the problems surrounding healthcare, there are virtually no nationally broadcast analyses of the problems in healthcare. Yes, there is debate about how Trump’s new healthcare plan will replace or modify Obamacare–the politics of healthcare. But glaringly absent from Big Media discussions is any substantive talk about the costs of prescription drugs, biologic agents that cost several thousand dollars per month, skyrocketing hospital charges, the impenetrable world of medical billing, out-of-control costs for medical devices, research showing that the more money spent on healthcare the higher the mortality, and other issues.
Watch ABC’s Good Morning America and you will not hear much discussion about the costs of prescription drugs. Watch NBC’s Today Show and you will hear virtually nothing about the outrageous cost of medical devices. Watch 60 Minutes and there will be no in-depth explorations about medical bankruptcy or the mortality costs of greater healthcare. You’d have to go back to 2007 on ABC’s 20/20 show to hear John Stossel criticize healthcare–there has been almost none since.
Imagine the same silence was going on with reporting for acts of terrorism and we find out that the shooting in San Bernardino, California, or the Boston Marathon bombing, or the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting occurred but were not conveyed through Big Media news reports or commentary—that would be a glaring and concerning act of omission, wouldn’t it? Of course, such events were broadcast openly, perhaps even over-reported.
Then why are some of the most heinous activities in modern healthcare not being reported, debated, followed up, when healthcare is among the factors most likely to threaten the health of the American economy, sufficient to cripple personal income, spending ability, all while the health of Americans is in a downward spiral with more obesity, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and other chronic disorders?
Consider this: In past, Big Media used to report the excesses and abuses of the healthcare system frequently and openly. Why the change of heart with such an enormous societal problem? Could it be direct-to-consumer drug advertising?
Just about everyone in the U.S. has heard about the drugs Cialis, Eliquis, Humira, and Lyrica, among the most-run TV drug ads, with 80 drug ads being run every hour around the clock. The drug industry now spends an unprecedented $5 billion dollars a year on these ads, and the sum continues to grow every year. When I watch TV morning news, every other commercial is about a drug. If you watch daytime TV, drug ads likewise dominate. Prime time? The same: filled with ads for Tresiba–“Tresiba ready,” Phil Mickelson and Enbrel, Sally Field and Boniva. No other industry dominates commercial air time like the drug industry.
Has the drug industry, in effect, bought the silence of Big Media? If drug ads dominate commercial income for NBC, ABC, CBS, and other major media, do they not criticize the drug industry and avoid antagonizing their biggest customer? Can you conceive of any other reason the media are essentially silent on all the crucial issues in healthcare? If they were not silent, you would have heard about:
- Gilead Sciences, maker of Harvoni and Sovaldi for hepatitis C, charges $84,000 to $94,000 for a single vial of 120 capsules, despite costing only $68-136 to manufacture, yielding revenues far beyond that required to recover R&D costs.
- Celgene increased the cost of thalidomide for multiple myeloma 32-fold, even though they did not develop the drug nor fund its development.
- AstraZeneca markets Lovaza, prescription fish oil, that costs $2880 per year when fish oil of the same, or even superior, quality is available for around $150 per year without a prescription. Doctors, being so miserably uninformed about nutritional supplements, give into the sexy drug sales rep who hawks Lovaza, adding to the societal burden of costs.
- “Me-too” drugs, i.e., new drugs that are minor variations of existing drugs, raise drug costs, rather than reduce them. Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix, AcipHex, Nexium, and Dexilant are drugs to block stomach acid. Despite the number of choices and apparent competition, costs have increased for each agent, not decreased.
- Of the 39 new agents approved by the FDA in 2012, 11 were biologics with consumer price tags of over $100,000 per year.
That’s just a sample, of course, of the shenanigans of the drug industry. There are countless more. But I doubt you have heard much about any of them because the news does not report them.
Defenders of drug advertising argue that it is a first amendment right for their industry to run ads anytime, anywhere. Ironically, it appears that, because drug advertising dominates the income of Big Media, they have, in effect, purchased the voice of media and silenced them. The system is broken because it supports deep-pocketed commercial interests like Big Pharma and has lost sight of health. This is one of the reasons I wrote the book, Undoctored: Why Healthcare Has Failed You and How You Can Become Smarter Than Your Doctor. The drug industry now controls the content of Big Media, the healthcare industry grows larger and richer, while American health erodes and finances are crippled. Yet real health is achievable easily, inexpensively, and quickly, without drugs, without doctors, without hospitals. Just don’t count on a drug TV ad or your doctor to tell you how. Become undoctored, undrugged, unhospitaled, and don’t count on the news to inform you about health.