Drug Costs

A Look At Recent Polling

March 13, 2019 3:12 pm

In one of our first blog posts last year, we featured a Gallup survey that found less than half of Americans (44 percent) are worried about paying for routine medical care. As we said then:  while healthcare pricing anxiety is real, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and full datasets before drawing conclusions and basing legislation on a single survey. Headlines based on public opinion polls rarely tell the full story.


We find ourselves in a similar situation this week. When featuring a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, news headlines generally focused on a single question that indicated Americans support various proposals to regulate drug prices. But even in this survey, which was clearly designed to illicit that response, it’s evident Americans’ opinions are more nuanced.


Take these findings for example: when Kaiser asked the general public about drug prices, 4 in 5 respondents said prices are “unreasonable.” But when Kaiser asked respondents who are currently taking prescription drugs (more than 60 percent) about their ability to afford drugs, Kaiser found nearly three-quarters of respondents said that affording their medicines is “easy.” For Americans who take between one and three medications, that number shot to 83 percent. For patients who take four or more drugs, the percentage saying they had an “easy” time affording treatments was still 62 percent.


Opinion, meet reality.


Americans also understand the benefits of innovation. Even though headlines over the last year have hammered costs over benefits, three-fifths of respondents told Kaiser that medications developed over the last two decades have “made the lives of people in the United States better.”


These findings, along with the percentage of Americans who favor certain pieces of legislation and regulation, were featured in a Kaiser PowerPoint presentation about the poll.


What wasn’t featured in that slide deck? The fact that support for certain proposals declines significantly if Americans believe it will harm innovation or America’s elderly population.


As CNBC reported, for example, “Support for price negotiation dropped from 86 percent to just 31 percent if government price negotiations could hurt research and development.” That important figure actually has declined in the last decade. A Kaiser poll from 10 years ago found about half of Americans would support increased price regulation even if harmed innovation. Support for price negotiation declined to 29 percent if it would result in diminished access, or Medicare not covering some prescription drugs. The declines in support were even more prominent among senior citizens.


Additionally, more Kaiser respondents (50 percent) said competition among drug and insurance companies would do a better job than regulation (41 percent) of managing drug prices.


Americans increasingly understand the unintended negative consequences of government intervention when it comes to drug pricing.


When will lawmakers and the news media?