Bernie Sanders calls for more broadcast news on drug pricing

Dive Brief:

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, an outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical industry, lobbed his latest attack on Monday, this time at television news networks for their lack of coverage on rising drug prices.
  • "Americans pay the highest prices in the world by far for prescription drugs and nearly on in five American adults cannot afford to buy the medicine they are prescribed. Yet your networks sweep this story under the rug," Sanders wrote in a March 13 letter.
  • Sanders addressed the letter to six network heads: James Goldston, president of ABC News; Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS; Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News Channel; Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News, David Rhodes, president of CBS News; and Jeff Zucker, president of CNN.

Dive Insight:

Among those calling for pharmaceutical reform in Washington, Sanders has been one of the most vocal. The Independent senator from Vermont has spearheaded legislation aimed at incentivizing companies to create lower-priced AIDS drugs, promoting the importation of drugs from Canada, and granting power to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices for drugs covered by Medicare. 

He has also criticized specific drug developers for their more high-priced products — calling out Ariad Pharmaceuticals in an October letter for the $199,000 per year price tag on its leukemia drug Iclusig (ponatinib) and Eli Lilly a month later via Twitter for the rising cost of Humalog (insulin lispro).

In the March 13 letter, Sanders urged the television executives to meet with congressional leaders about increasing the amount of air time spent on drug pricing stories.

He pointed to a report released earlier this month from the progressive, non-profit research firm Media Matters for America that found relatively miniscule amounts of coverage on the topic. From Dec. 6 through March 10, ABC's World News Tonight and CBS' Evening news ran zero segments that "substantatively addressed escalating prescription drug prices in the U.S."

NBC's Nightly News ran one segment, PBS ran two, and Fox News and CNN each ran four during that roughly four-month period, according to the report. Notably, a total of six segments aired on MSNBC, the only channel in the report that was not mentioned in Sanders' letter.

Other studies have identified a more robust amount of coverage in print publications.

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, for example, published a combined 926 stories on drug pricing in the U.S. between January 1985 and November 2015, or about one story per month, according to a 2016 study from the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research.

The study also determined that this coverage has increased over time, as has the demand for reform. In 2015, the two publications each printed 75 stories, about one every five days, on drug pricing in the U.S.

Recommended Reading:

  • Office of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders Letteroffsite link

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