The Public Weighs In On Medicare Drug Negotiations

Healthcare Insurance

Key Findings

  • With much attention on the public’s view on Medicare drug price negotiations, the latest KFF Tracking Poll finds large majorities support allowing the federal government to negotiate and this support holds steady even after the public is provided the arguments being presented by parties on both sides of the legislative debate (83% total, 95% of Democrats, 82% of independents, and 71% of Republicans).
  • Most adults – across partisans – don’t believe high drug prices are needed for drug companies to invest in new research instead agreeing that “even if U.S. prices were lower, drug companies would still make enough money to invest in the research needed to develop new drugs.” The results suggest that while hearing individual arguments may shift some views, the public still largely favors allowing Medicare drug negotiations when presented with the entirety of the public debate.
  • As the debate over how to address prescription drugs continues, less than half of the public say they have confidence in President Biden or either party in Congress to recommend the right thing for the country on prescription drug prices, but Democratic lawmakers fare better than Republican ones. Among interest groups, AARP garners a slight majority of adults saying they are confident in the organization’s ability to recommend the right thing for the country on prescription drug pricing while fewer (14%) have the same level of confidence in pharmaceutical companies.
  • While 85% of adults ages 65 and older report having some type of insurance that helps pay for prescription drugs, one in five older adults still report difficulty affording their prescription drugs, including 17% of older adults with some type of prescription drug coverage. The share who report difficulty affording prescription drugs increases to more than one in four among adults 65 and older who take four or more prescription drugs.
Public Favors Medicare Drug Negotiations

About eight in ten U.S. adults (83%) and adults 65 and older (78%) say they think the cost of prescription drugs is “unreasonable.” Lowering prescription drug prices in the U.S. has been a health care policy priority for decades and earlier this year, it topped the list of health care issues the public wanted Congress to tackle. One proposal aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs is to allow the federal government to negotiate the price of prescription drugs for people on Medicare and private insurance.

The Democrats’ budget reconciliation package includes a proposal to allow the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries and people enrolled in private plans. The proposal, which has been part of previous legislative proposals and previously estimated by The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to result in about $450 billion in savings to Medicare, has met strong opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, as well as some lawmakers. Yet, the proposal is largely popular among the public across partisans as well as among seniors, the group most directly impacted by such legislation. Eight in ten adults (83%) say they either “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies as do 84% of older adults (65 and older), including the vast majority (93%) of those ages 65 and older who identify as either a Democrat or lean Democratic, and three-fourths (76%) of older adults who are Republican or lean Republican.

Previous KFF polls have found that some attitudes are malleable on this issue as the public hears arguments from either side of the debate around Medicare drug price negotiations. The latest poll finds that when the public are presented with the main arguments being made by advocates on both sides of the debate, the shift in opinion is modest and support for negotiation remains high. After gauging initial support allowing the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies, the poll presented respondents with arguments both for and against the proposal.

Argument against: People opposed to allowing the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies say this would have the government too involved and will lead to fewer new drugs being available in the future.

Argument in favor: People in favor of allowing the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies say this is needed because Americans pay higher prices than people in other countries, many can’t afford their prescriptions, and drug company profits are too high.

One-third of the public say the argument from those opposed to drug price negotiations is convincing compared to a large majority (84%) who say they found the argument from those in favor convincing.

Majorities of all adults as well as those 65 and older, across partisans, say they found the argument in favor of drug negotiations convincing while a smaller share said the same about the argument against the drug negotiations. Nearly half (45%) of all Republicans said the argument from those opposed, which highlights the increased role of the government and the drug companies’ stance that this will lead to fewer drugs coming to market, is also convincing. More than half (53%) of adults 65 and older who are Republican or Republican-leaning say they found the argument against drug negotiations convincing, compared to 18% of Democrat or Democratic-leaning older adults.

After hearing the arguments for and against the proposal to allow the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies, attitudes remained relatively unchanged with a majority continuing to favor this proposal. While overall favorability stays the about same, there are some small shifts among groups especially in the share who “strongly favor” this proposal. For example, overall Republican support for drug negotiations decreases five percentage points but there is a large shift among those who say they “strongly favor” after hearing both arguments (44% to 28%). But even so, a majority of Republicans (71%) continue to support the proposal after hearing the arguments.

The pharmaceutical industry has argued that allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices will lead to less research and development of new prescription drugs. KFF polling finds few people (6%) saying they think “drug companies need to charge high prices in order to fund the innovative research necessary for developing new drugs” while a large majority (93%) say “that even if U.S. prices were lower, drug companies would still make enough money to invest in the research needed to develop new drugs” comes closer to their view. This view is consistent across partisanship and age groups.

Few Have Public’s Confidence To Recommend The Right Thing On Prescription Drug Pricing

Neither President Biden nor members of either party in Congress has gained the full confidence of the public to do what’s right for the country on prescription drug pricing. Slightly less than half of the public say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in President Biden (46%) or Democrats in Congress (48%) to recommend the right thing for the country on prescription drug prices. One-third of the public (33%) say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in Republicans in Congress and few are confident that pharmaceutical companies will recommend the right thing (14%).

A slight majority of adults are confident in AARP’s ability to recommend the right thing for the country on prescription drug pricing. AARP is a non-partisan interest group focusing on the issues that impact adults over the age of 50 that has strongly advocated for Medicare drug negotiations.

AARP also has the confidence of older adults with about six in ten adults 65 and older saying they have at least “a fair amount” of confidence in AARP to recommend what is right for the country on prescription drugs.

One In Five Seniors Struggle Affording Prescription Drugs

The latest KFF Health Tracking Poll finds that 85% of adults ages 65 and older report having some type of insurance that helps pay for prescription drugs. Even still, one in five older adults report difficulty affording their prescription drugs, including 17% of older adults with some type of prescription drug coverage. The share who report difficulty affording prescription drugs increases to more than one in four among adults 65 and older who take four or more prescription drugs.

Methodology

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