In October so far, US Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has spent $48.5 million, or 86% of his advertising budget, on television ads dealing with health care issues, compared with Republican contender John McCain’s total of $261,000, or just 1.5% of budget, in this area.

For the year as a whole, Senator Obama has spent $113 million, 68% of his budget, on 117 television ads prioritising health care issues and these have aired almost 192,000 times. This is eight times the amount spent by Senator McCain, who has run just 10 TV ads on health issues, airing as 11,300 commercials and accounting for only 13% of his budget, reports the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Health care has come forcibly back onto the election agenda in the last few weeks following reports that cost issues are forcing US consumers to go without their prescribed medications. New data from IMS show that US prescription drug sales for the first eight months of this year were lower than in the same period of 2007, the first time they have not shown an increase in more than 10 years. Observers believe this decline is due not only to the economic downturn but also to rising out-of-pocket costs of medicines for consumers, especially the elderly.

In particular, there are concerns that older people enrolled in the prescription drug (part D) programme operated by Medicare – the federal health scheme for seniors and disabled people – halt their treatment once they reach the scheme’s coverage gap, more widely known as the “doughnut hole.” When enrollees reach the annual initial coverage limit for their prescription drugs, which stands this year at $2,510, they are then required to pay $3,216 worth of prescription drug costs entirely out of their own pockets until their total for the year reaches $5,726, after which Medicare again starts to pick up the tab.
Both presidential nominees have pledged to strengthen Medicare, with Sen Obama calling for the federal programme to be able to negotiate prices with drugmakers. Both also favour the wider use of generics and speedy market entry for biogenerics and, in the past, have been vocal supporters of allowing US consumers to import prescription drugs from overseas.