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American Medical Association wants to ban ads for prescription drugs

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On Tuesday, the American Medical Association called for a ban on consumer advertisements for prescription drugs and medical devices, an attempt to help customers make the best, most affordable health care choices, the group said. The AMA claims drug advertisements create high demand for the expensive treatments that patients see on TV and online, when alternative low-cost medical solutions may be available and more effective.

The move is one of many new policy changes suggested by the AMA to help make prescription medications more affordable for patients. The group notes that prices on generic and prescription drugs have steadily increased over the years, recently experiencing a 4.7 percent spike in 2015. This is dangerous for patients, says the AMA, as people often delay treatments when prescriptions become too costly. "In a worst-case scenario, patients forego necessary treatments when drugs are too expensive," said AMA Board chair-elect Patrice A. Harris in a statement.

"Patients forego necessary treatments when drugs are too expensive."

The AMA claims the billions of dollars pharmaceutical companies spend on ads every year also fuels increases in drug prices. Right now, the United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world to allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs; nearly $4.5 billion is spent on these advertisements in the US, up by 30 percent over the last two years. The AMA says companies ultimately drive up the prices of their drugs in order to offset such extravagant marketing costs.

Along with getting rid of ads, the AMA wants to launch an "advocacy campaign" that will demand more choices and competition in the pharmaceutical industry. Specifically, the medical group will work with federal regulators to come up with ways to limit anticompetitive behavior, so that drug companies have more incentive to keep prices affordable. The AMA will also keep an eye on company mergers and acquisitions, as well as work on reforming the patent system.

The pharmaceutical industry does not support the AMA's policy proposal. The advertisements provide "scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options," Tina Stow, a spokeswoman for the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said to Bloomberg in an e-mail. "Research shows that accurate information about disease and treatment options makes patients and doctors better partners," she said. Stow also argued that prescription drug ads encourage patients to go to the doctor when they otherwise wouldn't, according to the Associated Press.