Bill would put limits on legal “medical alert” commercials

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Television viewers are increasingly accustomed to them.

Now, legislation to make sure those legal “medical alert” commercials don’t confuse viewers has cleared a state Senate committee and is headed to the full Senate.

Tuesday, the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee approved SB 178 to regulate plaintiff lawyer advertisements targeting people who use prescription drugs and medical devices.

“I’m sure all of you 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 a logo of a national health organization like the Food and Drug Administration meant to imply authenticity. They might show an ambulance in the background, use a dramatic or scary voice.”

In testimony before the committee, Alvarado argued the ads compromise the doctor-patient relationship and potentially put consumers’ health at risk because they emphasize a drug’s side effects while failing to mention its benefits. Common prescriptions targeted include blood thinners and drugs to treat diabetes, heartburn, cardiovascular events and certain cancers.

The legislation would require advertisers to warn viewers it is dangerous to stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting a doctor. A second provision would prohibit the use of a government agency logo in a manner that suggests an affiliation. A third provision would prohibit ads that solicit legal business from being labeled a “medical alert” or “health alert.” Lastly, SB 178 would protect personal health information from being sold for soliciting legal services without the written authorization of the patient.

Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, asked how enforceable the proposed law would be since some of Kentucky’s larger metropolitan areas are served by out-of-state television stations. Cory Meadows of the Kentucky Medical Association testified Tennessee has a similar statute and West Virginia was considering one.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, asked why a violation of SB 178 would be punishable by a misdemeanor and not just a civil penalty. Meadows said KMA wanted to make it a felony. He said some type of criminal penalty was needed to “put teeth” in the measure.

Jay Vaughn of the Kentucky Justice Association testified the group liked the proposed warning not to stop taking a drug without consulting a physician. He said the group thought the other provisions of SB 178 went too far.

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