New Poll Finds Increased Support for Government Action on Drug Prices

Poll letters in colorful graph

With concerns over the costs of prescription drugs taking center stage in American politics during a time when there are shortages of insulin and medical devices like EpiPens, it’s no wonder that the general public is frustrated and is calling on the government to take action of some kind.

Results of a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation show that a majority of adults, including seniors, who took the survey, are in favor of government actions that could curb the cost of medication. According to the poll, which was released this morning, the support for government action transcended party identification.

Some of the actions supported by the poll-takers include requiring companies to include list prices of drugs in advertisements; creating easier regulatory pathways for drugs to come to market; allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare; allowing prescriptions to be imported from Canada; increasing taxes on drug companies whose prices are deemed too high; and providing Medicare with additional tools and resources when it comes to the medications covered by the program.

The poll found that 24 percent of adults, as well as 23 percent of those who identified as senior citizens, found the higher out-of-pocket expenses paid for prescription drugs make it more difficult to maintain regular use of their medicines. The KFF poll found that certain groups of adults were likely to report difficulty affording their medications. Those groups include “those who are spending $100 or more a month on their prescriptions (58 percent), those who report being in fair or poor health (49 percent), those who take four or more prescription drugs (35 percent), and those with incomes less than $40,000 annually (35 percent).”

The poll also found that three in 10 adults reported they do not take their medication as prescribed because of the cost. Of those, one in 10, about 8 percent, said their condition worsened as a result of not sticking to the doctor’s prescription.

A significant majority of respondents, 80 percent, said the driver of the high costs of drugs is so the drug manufacturers can report higher profits. About 63 percent of those who took the survey said profits made by pharmacy benefit managers are a “major factor” contributing to the price of prescription drugs, KFF reported.

With profit seen as a motive for the high prices of medications, three-fourths of those surveyed said they do not trust pharmaceutical companies to price their medications fairly. KFF noted that was a significant change from 10 years ago. In a 2008 KFF survey, about 41 percent of respondents said they trusted the companies when it came to pricing.

Lawmakers have held several hearings on drug prices this year. This week, the so-called Gang of 7, executives from top pharma companies, were grilled by a U.S. Senate panel about pricing concerns and people rationing their medications. In the House, the Ways and Means Committee heard testimony from various players in the industry about the increasing out-of-pocket costs that consumers face when it comes to their prescriptions. The hearing in the Ways and Means Committee was conducted about two weeks after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar floated a proposal to lower drug prices and out-of-pocket expenses by encouraging manufacturers to pass discounts to patients instead of insurers.

Action is also being taken at the state level, too. In Massachusetts, a consumer group has proposed a bill that would cap drug prices in that state.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has also made it a point to go after companies over their pricing. Recently, he took on Catalyst Pharmaceuticals over the $375,000 list price for Firdapse, the first approved treatment for Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS). Sanders railed against the price because said LEMS patients were able to receive the same drug, known as 3,4-DAP, for free from Jacobus Pharmaceutical under the Food and Drug Administration’s compassionate use program. For years, the family-owned Jacobus has given away treatments to 200 patients battling LEMS. Catalyst fired back at Sanders, explaining that their drug was available for all of the 3,000 or so people with LEMS in the U.S. and not only the 200 that Jacobus’ unapproved treatment supported.

This morning, Sanders is calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow pharmacies to distribute “unbranded, lower-cost versions” of the medication, Reuters reported this morning. Shares of Catalyst fell as much as 10 percent in premarket trading as a result.

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