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    AARP: Ignore those drug ads on television

    The group suggests using generic drugs when possible and comparing drugstore prices to keep a lid on costs.

    By STEPHEN NOHLGREN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 23, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Television commercials bombard viewers with smiling, radiant older people walking the beach or playing with their grandchildren, seemingly free of aches, allergies and high cholesterol.

    Such well-being can be yours, the ads suggest. Just ask your doctor about this drug or that.

    Soon, a smidgen of counteradvertising will compete with the drumbeat.

    AARP, the nation's 50-plus lobbying and marketing behemoth, has budgeted $10-million to persuade consumers to save money on drugs by shopping wisely.

    "Drug prices went up 17 percent last year," John Rother, AARP's policy director, said Monday in a news conference. "We are doing our part on a grass roots level to keep the cost of prescription drugs down."

    AARP's message? Use generic drugs whenever possible, compare prices at different pharmacies and "don't be fooled by all these television ads trying to persuade you to use expensive new drugs."

    In most cases, generic drugs are just as effective at half the cost or less, Rother said.

    The consumer awareness campaign is designed to bolster AARP's top legislative priority: passing a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.

    If Medicare's clients can be persuaded to use cheaper generics, Rother said, a Medicare drug benefit will become more politically palatable.

    He predicted that the House of Representatives would pass a bare-bones benefit late next month, costing about $300-billion over 10 years. The Senate should take up the bill this summer, he said, and that would make prescription drugs a hot issue during midterm Congressional elections.

    AARP figures adequate drug coverage under Medicare would cost $500-billion to $600-billion. Extensive use of generics might save as much as $100-billion, Rother said -- hence AARP's ad campaign.

    One glitch so far: One network -- Rother wouldn't say which -- has refused to accept AARP's ads for fear of reducing revenue from the brand name ads.

    "In effect, what our ads are saying is: "Don't pay attention to those other ads.' "

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