An overwhelming majority of Americans favor government action to restrain prescription drug prices, according to a poll released Thursday.
Eighty-two percent of those polled said they want Medicare to negotiate prices with the companies, which Congress does not allow. Seventy-eight percent favored limiting the amount companies can charge for high-cost drugs, such as those that fight cancer or hepatitis, according to the poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. And more than two-thirds want to let Americans buy drugs imported from Canada. Support is strong no matter the political party. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
The views come as the skyrocketing prices of some drugs are under intense scrutiny, with new evidence showing massive price hikes by some companies. Some members of Congress have called for investigations, but there is no consensus on how to effectively rein in the cost, particularly for lifesaving and unique treatments such as the EpiPen for people with deadly allergies and the hepatitis C-curing drug Sovaldi.
The poll found that while a majority of Americans still believed prescription drugs developed over the past two decades have improved lives, respect is dwindling. In 2008, 73 percent of Americans said the medicines had this positive effect, but that number dropped to 62 percent in August 2015. The new poll found that now 56 percent of Americans consider the drugs beneficial.
“Cost could be one reason why the share of Americans who say prescription drugs have made the lives of people in the U.S. better is declining,” the pollsters wrote.
The poll found that three-quarters of Americans considered drug costs unreasonable. Despite the perceived burden, the poll also discovered that 73 percent of people taking prescription medicines said it had been easy to afford their drugs. People in fair or poor health and those taking four or more drugs were more likely to say they were having trouble affording prescriptions than more healthy people.
Among the policy ideas the respondents were asked to consider, the most popular was requiring drug companies to explain how they set drug prices, with 86 percent support. Two-thirds of Americans favored Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s suggestion to create an independent group to oversee drug pricing.
Other ideas were less popular, including two restricting consumers. A minority of those polled favored eliminating prescription drug advertisements, which has been suggested to quell the aggressive marketing companies do directly to consumers. Only 4 in 10 Americans favored requiring people to pay more if they don’t choose the least expensive version of a drug to treat their illness.
Separately, the poll also found that only a quarter of Americans were aware that the number of people without health insurance is at a record low. Just 9 percent went without coverage last year, according to the U.S. Census.
The survey found that the country is evenly divided about the success of the insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act to assist people without employer or government coverage. People in states that are running their own marketplaces were more positive about them than are people in states that rely on the federal website, healthcare.gov.
The survey was conducted between Sept. 14 and 20 among 1,204 people, using both land lines and cell phones. The margin of error was +/- 3 percent.
Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.