Consider this subhead (page 14 of the report), "Research Suggests DTC Advertising Increases Drug Spending and Utilization." Now to the casual observer (read here "politician" or "many journalists") that means the same thing as "DTC Advertising Increases the Cost of Drugs."
It's a GAO solipsism.
A more accurate statement would be that DTC advertising drives patients to their doctors who, in turn, reach a diagnosis and then appropriately prescribe. That DTC helps patients and their physicians diagnose an existing medical condition earlier than might otherwise occur is a tremendously positive and potent public health service.
Is that statement in the GAO report? Nope.
Also, if more people are being appropriately prescribed more medicines -- then , indeed, we will as a nation be spending more on pharmaceuticals. But the GAO report makes this sound like a nepharious scheme. And don't be surprised if this theme is taken up by the usual suspects.
What's interesting is that the GAO doesn't report that, if you look at the "list" price of all the on-patent drugs within a given therapeutic category (which almost nobody pays) and then look at their individual advertising spends, what you will not find is a causal relationship. Oops.
And it's very disturbing that the GAO report didn't even consider FDA's research on DTC and physician prescribing patterns. What the FDA found was that physicians are NOT inappropriately prescribing medicines just because their patients ask for them.
But why worry about facts when you've got rhetoric on your side.