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Lower drug prices

Demonstrators protest for lower prescription drug costs in front of the New York Stock Exchange on November 14, 2019. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images) 

As Dems Push Medicare Expansion, Survey Shows Most Americans Support Drug Price Negotiations

"The time has come to finally enable Medicare negotiation. Americans are becoming increasing restless for it to happen even if the pharmaceutical companies are not."

Brett Wilkins

Rejecting Big Pharma's assertion that lower medication costs would stifle innovation and competition, and affirming efforts by House Democrats to change U.S. law so that Medicare can seek lower prescription drug prices, over 80% of Americans surveyed in a poll published Thursday said they support empowering the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. 

"Americans aren't buying the claim that attempts to rein in drug prices will stifle innovation and devastate the pharmaceutical industry."
—Tim Lash, West Health

The West Health/Gallup survey (pdf) of more than 3,700 U.S. adults found that 97% of respondents who identified as Democrats, 80% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans agreed with the statement that "government needs to play a major role in negotiating prescription drug prices with Medicare in order to control costs." 

Survey participants were also asked whether "allowing government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare will hurt pharmaceutical competition and innovation." Only 19% of overall respondents concurred, including just 3% of Democrats, 20% of Independents, and 39% of Republicans. 

Fully 90% of all survey respondents also agreed with the statement that "drug pricing needs to undergo major reform in order to control costs."

drug prices survey

The survey's findings come as a broad coalition of over 150 House Democrats led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is demanding that Medicare expansion—including a provision that would allow the federal program to negotiate prescription drug prices—is included in President Joe Biden's infrastructure package. 

The negotiations which other nations conduct with drugmakers for lower prices are currently outlawed in the United States, which pays an average of 256% more for brand-name medications than 32 other countries, according to a recent RAND Corporation report. 

While campaigning for president, Biden promised to repeal what he called "the outrageous exception allowing drug corporations to avoid negotiating with Medicare." The lawmakers calling for Medicare expansion cited estimates showing that such a move would save the federal government $450 billion over the next decade.

On broader healthcare issues, 71% of those polled in the new survey said the government should play a major or moderate role "in making sure that all Americans have access to healthcare coverage," with 47% of all participants saying that role should be major.

 

For this question, respondents were broken down into groups based on income, not party affiliation. At 53%, support for government playing a major role in delivering healthcare access was strongest among people earning over $120,000 annually, while 50% of those earning less than $48,000 and 43% of respondents earning between $48,000 and $120,000 concurred.

"There is little question that substantial public support exists for more government action when it comes to addressing drug costs," Gallup senior researcher Dan Witters said in a statement. "And while there are differences across the political spectrum, even among Republicans, sentiment for public action is substantial."

Tim Lash, chief strategy officer for the nonprofit, nonpartisan West Health group, added that "Americans aren't buying the claim that attempts to rein in drug prices will stifle innovation and devastate the pharmaceutical industry."

"These misleading arguments are meant to preserve profits rather than protect patients," said Lash. "The time has come to finally enable Medicare negotiation. Americans are becoming increasing restless for it to happen even if the pharmaceutical companies are not."

As Common Dreams has reported, pharmaceutical industry consolidation—with mergers and acquisitions often executed to boost stock prices and acquire highly profitable blockbuster drugs—harms both competition and consumers.

Belying Big Pharma claims, a January report from the office of Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) found that as U.S. drug prices have soared in recent decades, pharmaceutical companies' "investment in research and development have failed to match this same pace."

"Instead, they've dedicated more and more of their funds to enrich shareholders or to purchase other companies to eliminate competition," the report said, noting that "in 2018, the year that [former President] Donald Trump's tax giveaway to the wealthy went into effect, 12 of the biggest pharmaceutical companies spent more money on stock buybacks than on research and development."

The report also underscored that large pharmaceutical companies are generally not responsible for most major new drug breakthroughs, and that innovation is largely driven by small firms reliant upon taxpayer-funded academic research. These smaller companies are then often purchased by pharma giants, which avoid the risks inherent in product development while reaping the rewards of owning the latest blockbuster drug.

"Instead of producing lifesaving drugs for diseases with few or no cures, large pharmaceutical companies often focus on small, incremental changes to existing drugs in order to kill off generic threats to their government-granted monopoly patents," the report stated. 


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