Sen. Ralph Alvarado explained SB 178 to the Economic
Development, Tourism and Labor Committee. (LRC photo)
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
A bill to regulate plaintiff-lawyer commercials that solicit clients allegedly injured by prescription drugs or medical devices is headed to the state Senate floor.
“I’m sure all of you are aware and have seen legal advertisements on television about prescription drugs,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. “They look like an important health alert about the risks associated with a medication, often using the logo of a national health organization like the Food and Drug Administration meant to imply authenticity. . . . And their goal is simple: It is to alarm the public and lure the consumer into calling a 1-800 number that promises them financial recovery through legal services.”
Alvarado, the bill’s sponsor, called Senate Bill 178 a “patient protection bill” and told the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee members that such ads compromise the doctor-patient relationship and potentially put consumers’ health at risk
He said the ads target many common drugs, including blood thinners and treatments for diabetes, heartburn, heart disease and certain cancers.
“Consider a scenario when someone abruptly stops taking a blood thinner, for example. Patients can experience a stroke or a transient ischemic neurological event, residual paralysis and in the worst case, death,” said Alvarado, who is a physician. “What we’re seeing is people will view these ads and stop taking the medication, despite it being the best course of treatment and despite there not being a medical reason for the person to stop treatment.”
He cited studies to support his claim, including one that found 58 percent of physicians reported having patients who stopped taking their medications without consulting their doctors after seeing such ads, and said the American Association of Retired Persons has sent warnings and letters to its members to implore them to not stop taking their medications without talking to their physicians first.
Among other things, SB 178 would require advertisers to warn viewers that it is dangerous to stop taking prescribed medications before consulting with a physician; would prohibit the use of a government agency logo in any way that suggests an affiliation; would prohibit ads that solicit legal business from being labeled a “medical alert” or “health alert”; and would protect personal health information from being sold or transferred to someone for the purpose of soliciting legal services without the written authorization of the patient.
Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, asked how enforceable the bill was since most of Kentucky is served by out-of-state TV stations. Cory Meadows, deputy executive vice president and the director of advocacy for the Kentucky Medical Association, said this still has to be worked out, but said Tennessee has a similar law and West Virginia is considering one.
“What this comes down to is protecting patient health and safety as well as preserving that relationship,” Meadows said. “There needs to be some regulation and oversight around these ads if we don’t want Kentuckians to get hurt or further hurt.”
Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, a lawyer, asked why a violation would be a misdemeanor rather than a civil violation with a financial penalty. Meadows said the original idea was a felony, and was negotiated down. He said some criminal penalty was needed to “put teeth” in the bill.
Jay Vaughn of the Kentucky Justice Association, which represents plaintiffs’ lawyers, said the group likes the proposed warning to not stop taking a drug without consulting a physician, but thought the other provisions went too far.