Americans Want Medicare to Negotiate Better Deals on Drugs
Policy + Politics

Americans Want Medicare to Negotiate Better Deals on Drugs


Amid growing concern among consumers and government officials about the skyrocketing costs of new specialty drugs, a new survey found that seven in ten Americans believe prescription drug prices are unreasonably high and that drug companies are making too much profit.

The new tracking survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation released Thursday found that while Americans generally agree that the pharmaceutical industry has improved their quality of life, 72 percent say that drug companies “put profits before people” and that the government must step in to correct the problem.

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A little more than half of those surveyed said they currently are taking prescription drugs, and most of those people say they have little trouble covering the cost. However, a quarter of the respondents said they had a “difficult time paying for their drugs.”

Critics of the pharmaceutical industry frequently cite Sovaldi and Harvoni -- Gilead Sciences new wonder drugs for treating the hepatitis-C liver virus – as prime examples of these runaway costs. Although Gilead is justified in touting the cutting-edge drugs as far superior to anything else on the market for treating the potentially deadly virus, the retail cost of the drugs is between $84,000 and $94,500 for a 12-week treatment.

Yet the problem is far more pervasive than that. Practically every new cancer treatment drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014 was priced at more than $120,000 a year, according to a study published last month by a group of concerned cancer specialists. Moreover, the unprecedented increase in drug costs are taxing the budgets of the Veterans Administration, Medicaid and  Medicare --  in some cases forcing officials to ration the availability of these drugs to patients most in need, as The Fiscal Times has reported.

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As for solutions to the problem, the survey showed the most support (about eight in ten) for requiring drug companies to release detailed information on how they set prices and mandating the government to negotiate with companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients.

However, seven in ten Americans favor government intervention to limit the amount that pharmaceutical companies can charge for drugs for serious illnesses like hepatitis or cancer, or allowing Americans to buy cheaper prescription drugs imported from Canada.

Gilead Sciences and other major pharmaceutical companies have asserted for years that they were justified in their pricing of state-of-the-art drugs because of their substantial research and testing costs. They also said that more emphasis should be placed on the medical benefits that the new drugs provide to patients.

Kendra Martello, a representative of the drug industry’s trade group PhRMA, testified in a hearing in Harrisburg, Pa., recently that it was unfair to contrast U.S. drug prices with those sold in other countries because “the pricing in foreign markets is kept artificially low.”

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The new survey may have some important political ramifications in the presidential campaign.

Kaiser Foundation polling dating back to April suggests that Americans (including many Republicans) are more concerned about soaring drug prices than repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act – a primary goal of virtually every GOP presidential candidate. The April survey found that Republican respondents ranked repeal of Obamacare and the individual mandate second and third to getting a handle on soaring drug costs for seriously ill patients.

As Politico noted today, neither Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker nor Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – two of the 17 Republican presidential candidates – mentioned prescription drug costs in their proposals for replacing the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, the two leading Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have highlighted proposals for instructing the government to negotiate lower drug prices.