The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found Americans strongly support ensuring that those with chronic conditions like cancer, HIV, and mental illness can have access to affordable drugs, and this sentiment was shared across partisan lines.
Americans may remain divided when it comes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but there’s one healthcare issue that unites them: consumers want the government to do something about high drug prices, and they especially want protections for those taking drugs for chronic conditions like HIV, hepatitis, mental illness, or cancer.
Public consensus on drug costs topped the findings of the most recent Kaiser Health Tracking poll, completed April 15, 2015. The poll, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation at 52 monthly intervals since July 2010, largely gauges public opinion on elements of the ACA but also asks questions on other healthcare topics.
This month’s poll, the first since the ACA reached its 5-year anniversary, asked consumers where 16 emerging healthcare issues should rank in order of priority for Congress and President Barack Obama. Respondents could answer “top priority,” “important but not top,” “not too important,” “should not be done,” or that they did not know. The 2 top items on consumers’ radar screens both concerned drug prices:
· 76% said making sure that high-cost drugs for those with chronic conditions remain affordable should be a top priority, while 20% said this was important, but not a top priority. KFF reported that this included strong majorities of Democrats (87%), Republicans (66%) and independents (72%).
· 60% said government action to lower prescription drug prices should be a top priority, while another 28% said it was important but not a top priority.
Concerns about high drug prices have riled consumers, physicians, and members of Congress. In February, Hagop Kantarjian, MD, chairman of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's leukemia department in Houston, Texas, took his online petition effort against the high cost of cancer drugs directly to patients. This month, the Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to investigate rising costs of generic drugs after manufacturers refused to turn pricing information over to Congress. In Florida, health plans on the Marketplace exchanges were sued to reduce the cost of HIV drugs.
Next on consumers’ wish lists, according to the poll: do something to protect patients who use a hospital in their health plan, but end up being charged by an out-of-network doctor at that hospital. The KFF poll found that 56% of respondents felt this was a top priority and 29% found it important but not a top priority.
This issue has gained attention recently as narrow networks have become more common, and cases of poor communication involving out-of-network billing have reached the press. Two physicians writing for JAMA Surgery last month said that it’s up to payers and large providers—in other words, the hospital—to protect patients from these circumstances. Bundled payments, which require the hospital to sort out charges among multiple physicians, are a possible solution, they said.
The rest of the KFF poll finds opinion on the ACA remains divided, although it may be slowly shifting to a more favorable view. Overall, 43% hold a favorable view and 42% hold an unfavorable view. While this is the first time favorable views are higher—by a percentage point—it is within the margin of error and not statistically significant, according to a statement from KFF. As has been the case for months, opinion is divided along partisan lines, with Democrats favoring the ACA (70%) and Republicans opposing it (75%).
The ideological divide plays out in the roster of items that Congress and President Obama should address, although responses are sometimes at odds with one another.
When asked how to prioritize, “reducing the number of people of people that are able to get financial help from the government to purchase health insurance under the health care law to save the government money,” responses were split: 28% called it a top priority and 26% said it shouldn’t be done.
But later on, when asked about “requiring all states to expand their Medicaid program to cover more low-income uninsured adults,” responses fell this way: 50% said it was a top priority, with 22% saying it was important. Only 14% said it shouldn’t be done.
Americans remain divided about a core element of the law, the individual mandate. When asked if Congress should be “repealing the requirement that nearly all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine, “ 37% said this is a top priority, while 31% said this should not be done. Only 3% had no opinion.
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