TV Network News Ignores High Drug Prices

WASHINGTON, March 13 – Network newscasts have all but ignored skyrocketing prescription drug prices at a time when Americans say high costs are their top health care concern and three-quarters of Americans want to rein in rising prescription prices.   

There were no mentions of prescription drug prices on the CBS Evening News or ABC’s World News Tonight since last Dec. 6, according to a new study by Media Matters for America. NBC Nightly News aired one story. It was about a dramatic hike in prices for the allergy treatment EpiPen.

PBS NewsHour only talked about drug prices twice, once while interviewing Vice President Joe Biden and once in a segment on the 21st Century Cures Act.

On cable television, MSNBC devoted just six segments to the topic of prescription drug prices, while CNN and Fox News ran just four segments each.

“Americans pay the highest prices in the world, by far, for prescription drugs but network news wants to sweep that under the rug,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In a letter to top executives of the television networks, the senator invited them or their Washington bureau chief to meet to discuss increasing coverage of prescription drug prices on their networks.

While the flagship network newscasts barely mentioned prescription drug prices, viewers of the same programs were bombarded with commercials by pharmaceutical companies. Fueled partly by an 11 percent jump in TV ads, pharmaceutical company spending on ads overall rose to $5.6 billion in 2016, according to a Nielsen analysis cited in the advertising trade publication Medical Marketing & Media. Nine out of 10 drugmakers now spend more on marketing and sales than on research and development.

While network news doesn’t care about drug prices, Americans do. A majority (77 percent) called prescription drug costs unreasonable in a September 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Big majorities favored government actions to lower drug prices. A survey by Monmouth University on Feb. 7 found 1 in 4 Americans consider the cost of health care the biggest concern facing their family. More Americans (27 percent) now say overall health care costs are the most urgent health problem overtaking access to health care (20 percent), according to a Gallup poll published Dec. 6.

You wouldn’t know it from watching TV, but Americans spent $325 billion on prescription drugs in 2015, up 9 percent from the year before. The average outlay per patient for prescriptions shot up 25 percent since 2010, reaching $44 per prescription for commercial plans in 2015. The most commonly used brand-name drugs tripled in price since 2008, according to the Express Scripts 2016 Drug Trend Report.

Sanders has proposed ways to bring down prices by letting consumers import safe prescription drugs from Canada and will soon be introducing new legislation to instruct Medicare to negotiate drug prices for seniors and people with disabilities. 

To read Sanders’ letter to network executives, click here.

To read the Media Matters report, click here.