Why You're Seeing Catheter Ads On TV

Nov 30, 2012

To the TV watcher sitting with wide eyes, tightly crossed legs and an image burned indelibly into his mind:

Sorry about all the catheter commercials you've been seeing lately. Thought you'd like to know where they came from and why it's actually a good thing.

Operators Are Standing By: Why are they selling catheters on TV? Because new Medicare policy has made a new market.
Credit Rick Stone

New Policy, New Market  

Some of your fellow Americans have just gotten a new medical benefit that they really needed, an increase from Medicare in their monthly catheter allotment from 24 to 200.

It's a huge lifestyle improvement that health experts say will keep them comfortable and healthy while actually reducing the cost of  Medicare.

However, since it has radically expanded the catheter market in a way that makes it worth advertising for, your part of this is sitting through the commercials.

Believe me, it's the easy part.

Catheters And Cost/Benefit

The ads are aimed at post-surgical patients recovering at home and others who have to use urinary catheters regularly for other reasons. But with just six one-use catheters to last them all week, many were violating the package instructions and re-using them.

It became a patient safety issue.

"If the patient has a chronic need for catheters," says University of South Florida public health professor Jay Wolfson, "they want to have clean catheters that they know how to use  available to them when they need them. They don't want to worry about putting an old one in, lacerating themselves, getting a urinary tract infection and going back to the hospital."

That wasn't just a theory. Wolfson says so many real people were showing up at hospitals with infections that the cost to Medicare for treating the problems began to dwarf the savings it earned by being miserly with catheters.

Follow The Money

This is a typically American arc of a public heath problem. It required a profit motive and aggressive lobbying by medical equipment makers to start the ball rolling toward a solution.  And the solution will allow catheter makers to sell a huge number of extra catheters which, of course, requires flooding your home with creepy catheter ads.

You could look at it as a tax that you pay with your eyes and your nervous system.

But even if you avert your eyes and dive for the mute button, people who need them will still get their catheters.