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With drug prices spiking, Americans want more government action, new poll finds

EpiPen
Mylan Chief Executive Heather Bresch testified on Capitol Hill last week about EpiPen price increases.
(Associated Press)

More than three in four Americans believe that prescription drug prices are unreasonable, a new poll shows.

And large majorities — including Democrats and Republicans — favor aggressive government steps to make pharmaceuticals more affordable for consumers, according to the survey by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

The strong support for federal action comes amid a series of dramatic price spikes by drug makers, such as Mylan, the manufacturer of EpiPen, an epinephrine injectable used to counteract sometimes life-threatening allergic attacks. EpiPen’s over-the-counter price has increased nearly fivefold since 2010. 

Those price hikes may be driving a decline in public appreciation for prescription drugs, the Kaiser study’s authors speculated.

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The share of Americans who believe prescription drugs have made lives better, though still a majority, has declined from 73% in 2008 and 62% last year to 56% today.

At the same time, there is widespread support — 78% — for new restrictions on how much pharmaceutical companies can charge for high-cost drugs for illnesses such as hepatitis or cancer.

More than eight in 10 Americans favor allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug makers to get lower prices on medications for people on Medicare, a move that the pharmaceutical industry and its supporters in Congress have blocked for years.

And 86% of Americans support new requirements on drug companies to release information on how they set prices.

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“Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents both favor and think several policy actions would be effective in keeping prescription drug costs down, suggesting that some sort of policy action would appeal to people across the nation,” said Mollyann Brodie, who oversees Kaiser’s polling.

Soaring drug prices are increasingly being cited by insurers and government programs as a leading cause of rising healthcare costs, though most consumers are still shielded by their insurance plans from many of the highest prices.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans taking prescription drugs reported that it was easy to afford their prescriptions, Kaiser found.

Both leading presidential candidates — Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump — have pledged to take new steps to address prescription drug pricing.

Clinton last year put out a detailed prescription drug agenda, which includes allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices and allowing Americans to import cheaper drugs from abroad.

She has also proposed capping how much patients must pay out of pocket for prescriptions and stopping direct-to-consumer advertising by drug makers.

Trump’s healthcare proposals are far less detailed, though the businessman has also voiced support for allowing Americans to import less expensive drugs.

That step is supported by 71% of Americans, according to the Kaiser poll.

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On the other hand, Trump’s pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which closes a loophole in Medicare’s drug coverage for seniors, could increase how much elderly patients must pay for prescriptions.

The Kaiser poll, which was conducted from Sept. 14 to Sept. 20, surveyed 1,204 adults nationwide. The sampling error for a full sample is plus or minus three percentage points.

Twitter: @noamlevey

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