STAT-Harvard poll: Dismayed by drug prices, public supports Democrats’ ideas
By David Nather
STAT, December 1, 2015
Most Americans believe that the prices of brand-name prescription drugs have become unreasonable, and their dismay is leading to wide support for government action to keep costs down, including letting Medicare negotiate prices with drug companies, according to a new poll by STAT and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
About 7 out of 10 Americans, including two-thirds of Republicans, said Medicare, the federal health insurance program for older and disabled Americans, should be able to negotiate lower prices for all prescription drugs.
The poll found that the pharmaceutical industry’s reputation has suffered substantial damage. Barely half of all Americans now say drug companies are doing a good job for their customers, compared with the nearly 8 out of 10 who expressed that kind of confidence in a 1997 Harris Poll.
And they soundly rejected the industry’s argument that government action against rising drug costs would slow the development of new drugs. Sixty-four percent said they did not believe that would happen if Medicare negotiated lower prices, while 26 percent said they believed it could.
It also matters how potential government action on drug costs is framed. When it’s described as “price controls” under Medicare rather than “negotiating prices,” there’s a sharp drop-off in support among Republicans and senior citizens.
When given a choice of different options for dealing with extreme price hikes and the most expensive new drugs, Americans were divided between letting the government negotiate lower prices and approaches intended to promote competition.
Government negotiations was the most popular option and importing drugs came in second. Reducing regulations was the least preferred option, with the support of 1 out of 5 Americans.
In follow-up interviews, people who participated in the poll expressed a common theme: They’re not sure what the best solution is — they just want the government to do something.
The fact that the support for Medicare negotiations is so high, even though few people are personally experiencing high drug costs, suggests that their reactions are being driven by the perception that drug prices have become “just unreasonable” for others, according to Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard who directed the poll.
“It’s not people’s experience. It’s people’s outrage,” said Blendon.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
There is an important lesson here for single payer advocates. The public now wants the government to do something about the large increases in drug prices. It is not because of personal experience with these high prices but rather it is due to the OUTRAGE over the injustice of patients in need unnecessarily facing egregiously high drug pricing.
Much worse than the drug pricing crisis is the financial hardship, outrageous physical suffering and even loss of life that is due to our highly dysfunctional method of financing health care, even though we are spending about twice as much per capita as the average of other wealthy nations.
Our nation needs to understand that merely switching to a single payer system would correct the injustices of the financing system that the Affordable Care Act failed to rectify. With a well designed single payer system we would not only get the pricing of pharmaceuticals right, we would price correctly the rest of the system as well while improving access and free choice of health care – all without spending any more than we do already, yet spending it more equitably so as to eliminate for everyone the prospect of financial hardship due to health care.
If it takes outrage to create a demand for government action, then let’s work on our framing so that people understand that they should be outraged by the profound but remediable injustices that characterize our health care financing system. Start with intensified efforts to educate the media, since it has been the media that aroused the nation on outrageous drug pricing.