Bill targets legal ads aimed at prescription drugs

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Legislation to regulate plaintiff lawyer advertisements that target consumers of prescription drugs and medical devices advanced out of a state Senate committee Tuesday.

“I’m sure all of you have seen legal advertisements on television about prescription drugs,” Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said about the legislation, known as Senate Bill 178. “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.”

The ads compromise the doctor-patient relationship and potentially put consumers’ health at risk, Alvarado said while testifying before the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee. He explained that the ads do this by emphasizing a drug’s side effects while failing to mention its benefits. Common prescriptions that are targeted by these ads include blood thinners and drugs to treat diabetes, heartburn, cardiovascular events and certain cancers.

SB 178 would require advertisers to warn viewers that 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.

Alvarado called SB 178 a “patient protection bill.” He stressed that it would not ban legal ads or restrict someone’s right to seek legal services in response to their medical care.

Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, asked how enforceable the proposed law would be since some of Kentucky’s larger metropolitan areas, such as Northern Kentucky, are served by out-of-state television stations. Cory Meadows of the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) testified that was a concern but noted 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 that 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.

SB 178 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

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