Trust in the media is at an all-time low, and for good reason. During this election, we saw emails from supposed journalists colluding with the campaigns they are supposed to be covering and reporters declaring that they are giving up objectivity for a larger cause. Americans should be warned that such manipulation of the news is an increasingly common occurrence, and it’s used not just for politics and to change public opinion, but to impact public policy.
Take, for example, Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, which positions itself as a unbiased research institution that evaluates the efficiency and effectiveness of new medical treatments and has risen quickly to prominence as the “de facto arbiter of the nation’s drug chest.” That sounds like a real public service. In fact, journalists would welcome credible and transparent information about complicated issues like these. But unfortunately, that’s not what ICER is providing. In fact this nonprofit group receives much of its support from insurance companies that want to avoid having to pay for expensive new drugs and pharmaceutical treatments. Their work isn’t peer-reviewed—and , perhaps unsurprisingly–their analysis tends to find that most new treatments aren’t worth the cost.
As The Weekly Standard explained, the ICER’s recommendations ignore how pharmaceutical companies have to price in the costs associated with research and development, including all those that fail to ever come to market:
ICER also estimates “appropriate” drug prices, and its calls for price reduction are sometimes shocking. One report called for an asthma drug to have its price slashed by 76 percent; another found that a new blood cancer drug should be sold at 94 percent below its set market price. These extreme price recommendations ignore a basic premise within the biopharmaceutical industry – that drug sales fund innovation for new drugs, and that only one in 10 new medicines make it from Phase I clinical trials to FDA approval and the market.
A Capital Research report notes that “ICER has determined that most [drugs it reviews] are too expensive,” even when its own long-term cost-benefit analysis finds it’s the best value:
Another ICER report claimed that the $4,600 annual price for Entresto, a new drug to treat congestive heart failure, was 17 percent too high over the short-term. At its current price, Entresto would add $25 billion to the nation’s health care costs over five years. Yet, because the drug provides more health benefits and reduces hospitalization when compared to other treatments, it was cost effective over the long term. But [ICER president] Pearson didn’t seem too concerned with the long-term. “Just because it’s a good long-term value doesn’t mean you could afford it today without jacking up health care premiums a whole lot or doing other things to make money available,” he told a reporter.
Cost certainly has to be a consideration in our healthcare system, but the American people also need to recognize that this analysis isn’t just coming from a neutral party, but one with an interest in framing the drug price discussion and ultimately declaring that the benefits aren’t worth the costs. Of course, just because this group has donors with particular interests doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s biasing its analysis, but it does mean their work should be checked against other sources that may have different incentives or different interests.
Journalists, in particular, ought to be aware of such relationships rather than just repeating headlines issued by such interest groups’ releases. They ought to do their own analysis and look for other perspectives to give their readers a more balanced perspective
Journalists are supposed to help bring the truth and report on solid facts so that people can make educated decisions and assessments on their own. The media can help that cause—and repair their industry’s tattered reputation—by spending more time considering their sources and less time repeating alarmist headlines or opining on their own.