Americans say Big Pharma, not insurers, to blame for sky-high drug bills

Skyrocketing drug prices have drawn criticism from lawmakers and payers, who see the meds' high costs as unreasonable. And now, a growing number of Americans are pointing a finger at Big Pharma, blaming drugmakers rather than insurers for their own off-the-chart drug spending.

As CNBC reports, almost three-quarters of respondents to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll said their medication costs too much. And about the same number--76%--said it's because pharma companies set prices too high. Only 10% of people surveyed blamed insurers for the price hikes, saying the plans require people to pay too much for their share of the cost of prescription drugs. Another 10% blamed both insurers and drug companies for their pharmacy costs.

"We've hit an inflection point, where there have been year-over-year price increases, and what that is leading to is, I think, a very serious issue about access and affordability," Clare Krusing, spokeswoman for insurance trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, told CNBC.

But not everyone agrees with the new numbers. Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for industry group PhRMA, told the news outlet that Kaiser's survey questions did not give people enough information, skirting issues such as the costs drug companies take on when developing a new drug. And the way insurers design health plans can lead customers to pay for a greater share of drug costs than they did before, through higher deductibles and copays, he added.

"What we know and what the data show is that patients are getting asked to pay an ever-greater share of their medicine costs," Zirkelbach said, as quoted by CNBC. "It's no wonder that patients feel that their medicine costs are going up and up."

The survey comes as payers and lawmakers take steps to bring down sky-high prices for meds. In just one example, Express Scripts ($ESRX) set off a pricing war between Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and AbbVie ($ABBV) last year by striking an exclusive deal with AbbVie for its $83,320 Viekira Pak, hoping to save consumers $4 billion in 2015.

President Barack Obama

Earlier this year, President Obama proposed letting Medicare Part D negotiate drug prices "to ensure access to and affordability of these treatments," the administration said at the time. But the proposal would face a tough time in Republican-controlled Congress. State insurance plans are also laying out new measures to take a bite out of patients' drug costs. Last month, California's state insurance exchange capped drug copays, following a similar move by the states of New York and Maryland to reduce patients' share.

- read the CNBC story

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