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Poll Finds Americans Support Steps to Rein in Drug Prices, Especially in Medicare, Cancer

Mary K. Caffrey
Americans support more transparency in setting drug prices and letting Medicare negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
While Americans still want a free-market system for setting drug prices, they would support some steps to control the high cost of drugs, especially for high-cost drugs to treat cancer or hepatitis, according to the most recent health care tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The most recent poll, released today, found that an overwhelming number of Americans would support letting the government negotiate with Medicare to rein in drug prices in that program (83%), with 72% saying it would be effective. The Obama Administration has called for gaining this power, which would match the power that CMS has in Medicaid.

Despite its popularity, the Medicare item didn’t top the wish list. That distinction went to a requirement that drug companies disclose how they set drug prices (86%), with 81% saying this would be effective in bringing down costs.

This result comes on the heels of pushback from prescription benefit managers who were floored at the price of the first FDA-approved PCSK9 inhibitor, Praluent, a new cholesterol-fighting therapy that was priced at $40 a day, or $14,600 a year. While most analysts thought the drug would be expensive since it is a biologic, the expected price range was $7000 to 12,000 a year. CVS Health has refused to negotiate a discount until an expected competitor drug is approved later this month.

The poll comes as the high cost of prescription drugs increasingly gains ground as an issue that cuts across all age groups and partisan lines as a cause for concern; previous polls by Kaiser and other groups show that most Americans know someone who has struggled to pay for prescription drugs even if they have not faced this problem themselves.

A poll taken earlier in this year in early primary states—Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina—found that voters in those states felt the high cost of drugs was a problem, indicating that this could be a sleeper issue for a populist candidate of either party.

Kaiser's results drew a strong response from John Rother of the Campaign for Sustainable Drug Pricing, which has formed to draw attention to this issue as the 2016 elections approach. "The majority of the American public--both Republicans and Democrats--are clearly concerned about the issue of soaring prescription drug costs. The pharmaceutical industry's current pricing strategy is simply unjustifiable and threatens the sustainability of our health care system and our economy. The American people have simply had enough; and what these findings prove is that soaring drug prices are such a serious problem that addressing them is more important to Republican voters than repealing the Affordable Care Act." 

The public has consistently expressed concern for patients with diseases like cancer and hepatitis, diseases in which high out-of-pocket costs for drugs can leave patients with tough choices. Consistent with prior surveys, 76% of respondents favored controlling the amount that pharmaceutical companies can charge for therapies to treat these high-cost diseases. A slightly higher share, 77%, felt such a step would be effective.

The arrival of Sovaldi on the market at $84,000 for the course of treatment for hepatitis C was a game-changer for health plans, which were unprepared to absorb the cost of this new therapy, despite the fact that it promised a cure for a devastating disease.

New therapies in cancer are consistently coming on the market in the range of six-figures a year, which means that adherence is now an issue for patients with certain blood disorders.

The poll also found that almost three-quarters (72%) favored letting Americans buy drugs from Canada. The least popular solution polled was asking patients to purchase a lower-cost drug (48%) or requiring a higher co-payment if the patient selects the high-cost option.

While support for some intervention in controlling drug prices was strong overall, there was some divide along partisan lines. On the issue of disclosing how prices are set, 90% of Democrats favored this compared with 82% of Republicans and 84% of independents. Letting Medicare negotiate drug prices was supported by 93% of Democrats by only 74% of Republicans and 83% of independents. 

However, restricting what drug companies can charge for illnesses like cancer or hepatitis saw less partisan division: 79% of Democrats supported this, along with 70% of Republicans and 77% of independents. Curiously a higher share of Republicans support individual measures to control prices, but when asked if they want the market to guide drug prices, a whopping 76% supported the concept, compared with just 36% Democrats.

 
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