Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Drug Industry Could Use a Pill to Make This Campaign Go Away

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Drug Industry Could Use a Pill to Make This Campaign Go Away

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For at least a decade, the nation's prescription drug costs have risen like temperatures on a fever chart, helping to make the industry profitable, innovative and -- when politicians have taken notice -- vilified.

Democrat Al Gore was first out of the gate in this presidential campaign in tapping the anxiety of voters squeezed by companies that may hold the key to their health. Now Republican rival George W. Bush is on the case, too.

But in a campaign with no room for shades of gray, some reasons for high drug costs -- such as developing the pills that have brought huge strides in healing -- are often brushed aside.

"All of that's complicated," Gore says. "The underlying fact is these drug prices have been zooming up and people don't have the means to pay for their medicine."

Those who blame higher costs on profiteering point to such developments as a more than 20-fold increase in TV drug advertising over the past six years, to $1.1 billion last year, stoking demand for select expensive drugs. Revised federal rules allow more TV drug ads than before.

Those who defend the industry point to its massive research investments -- $21 billion in 1998 -- and the fact that four of five experimental drugs fail. They note the health-giving benefits being wrought by the genetic and biotechnological revolution -- at great cost in new factories and new processes.

Analysts say the nation's drug costs now are rising by 15 percent or more a year. That's well above inflation and above the spikes President Clinton noticed in his 1992 presidential campaign before attacking the "shocking prices" for drugs and proposing a Medicare drug plan as president.

Much has changed since then:

* Rising drug costs now are due much more to the development of new drugs than to higher prices for particular prescriptions. A Brandeis University study found almost no price inflation for existing drugs over the past four years.

* With an increasingly elderly population, more people are being treated with drugs, and people who use prescriptions are taking more.

* Drug company profits remain high -- nearly four times the corporate average as a percentage of revenues. …

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