Majority in U.S. favor government steps to cut drug prices

The evidence is mounting that when it comes to drug prices, Americans have had enough and are not going to take it anymore.

The latest poll on drug prices from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority of Americans, including those not even taking prescription drugs, think prices are too high and a nearly 75% think it is time the government take steps to do something about it. The current poll follows on two by Kaiser earlier this summer which said majorities blamed drugmakers for high prices and that Medicare should be able to negotiate prices, although 62% say that prescription drugs have improved the lives of people in the U.S.

In the latest survey, pollsters found that by large margins, Americans are in favor of requiring pharmaceutical companies to disclose how they set prices (86%); allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices (83%); and even limiting what drug companies can charge for drugs to treat serious illnesses (76%). The poll was taken by phone earlier this month.

Also important during the presidential election cycle is the fact that the results of the survey cut across political lines. A small majority, 51% to 40%, thought competition should be the key to controlling prices with 76% of Republicans favoring market forces to 57% of Democrats. But when it came to other considerations, the margins narrowed. On the question of allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, 93% of Democrats favored the action, but so did 74% of Republicans and 83% of independents.

"Unlike most things in health policy, there is bipartisan support for almost any action we have polled on that people think will control drug prices," Drew Altman, president of the foundation, said in a statement. "Even Republicans seem to support aggressive action by government."

Sen. Bernie Sanders

While Republican candidates continue to talk about the Affordable Care Act, one Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has been beating a drum over the high prices of drugs, like Gilead Sciences' ($GILD) $1,000-a-pill hepatitis C cure Sovaldi. He also is asking about rising prices of generic drugs. Most recently, Sanders and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to Valeant ($VRX) CEO J. Michael Pearson asking him to explain the price hikes on heart drugs Isuprel and Nitropress, which Valeant reportedly raised by 525% and 212% after buying the rights to the drugs.

The drug industry contends that if the U.S. were to go the way of European countries and take steps to limit their ability to put whatever prices they want on drugs, it would kill innovation to the detriment of Americans. And the industry points out that there have been market forces at work. Exclusive deals by pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts ($ESRX) and others around the hep C drugs from Gilead and AbbVie ($ABBV) created a price war that brought down their prices while the groups have been quick to kick drugs off of formulary lists when they can get better deals from drugmakers with a competing product.

Not boding well for the industry, however, was the fact that 73% of those polled said drugmakers make too much profit.

- here's the Kaiser poll results
- more from the Associated Press story

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