What are the hot button issues?
Table 2 identifies the issues covered in the articles, the frequency of their coverage, and how the results compare to previous
years. At the top of the list of topics attracting media attention in 2012 is drug safety, an issue that has remained at or
near the top of the list for many years. Another perennial focus of the media is the FDA which ranked first on the list in
2011 and dropped to third in 2012. These two issues, drug safety and the role of the FDA, continue to dominate the news and
appear in articles that are typically critical of the industry and its ability to self-manage. An exception to the negative
slant is The
New York Times article (November 8, 2011) defending the FDA, reporting that of the 35 new drugs approved by the FDA during the fiscal year,
24 of those drugs were approved in the United States before gaining approval in any other country.
Table 2: Analysis of Ethical Issues
Moving up to second on the list shown in Table 2 and signaling primarily good news for the industry is research and development
of new drugs. This issue continues to gain more attention over the years, steadily advancing toward the top of the list. This
set of articles reported mostly good news about the industry, in the form of progress made in research and drug development.
For example, The
Washington Post (January 24, 2012) reported an experimental treatment using embryonic stem cells that appeared to show progress in restoring
sight. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times (February 9, 2012) reported progress on the Alzheimer's front—just as scientists are announcing a breakthrough in their understanding
of how Alzheimer's spreads through the brain, robbing its sufferers of memories and cognitive functioning, the Obama Administration
proposed a dramatic increase in federal funding to support the research.
Also jumping up several spots on the hot button list and attracting more scrutiny in 2012 was marketing and sales incentives.
Several of the articles discussed a provision of the 2010 healthcare reform law requiring doctors, professional groups, and
teaching hospitals to report virtually all payments and gifts they receive from drug and device makers for research, consulting,
speaking, travel, and entertainment. The payments will be disclosed and reported in a database the public can access (USA Today, February 28, 2012; The
New York Times, January 17, 2012).
The focus on high drug prices appears to be waning over the nine-year period of the study. In the beginning years, drug prices
were consistently at or near the top of the list of hot button issues. High drug prices dropped one spot to fifth place on
the list in 2012. This confirms our conclusion from last year that drug safety trumps drug prices as a focus of the media.
Furthermore, two related pricing issues—importation/reimportation of drugs and differential pricing and distribution—once
a significant focus of media attention, received a combined total of only four references in 2012.
Similar to last year, healthcare reform was not a heavily covered issue. Although it was an issue in the presidential debates,
it did not rate spotlight prominence due to the sharp media focus on the economy. Additionally, providers were busy performing
the important but less than newsworthy tasks to prepare for implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
(PPAC) in 2014, such as installing an electronic medical record. Consistent with previous years, we separated the articles
addressing healthcare into two groups. One group, which included articles that generally mention the pharmaceutical industry
in relation to healthcare reform, is included in this section of the article. As shown in Table 2, there was only one such
article this year. The other group, which incorporated 16 articles this year, consisted of articles about healthcare reform
and will be reviewed in a separate section.