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Patients Say US Drug Prices “Unreasonable,” Need Gov’t Attention

In addition to lamenting high drug prices, most patients do not approve of government policies for addressing costs.

high drug prices

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Seventy-seven percent of patients believe US drug prices are “unreasonable,” but most don’t approve of current government solutions to combat high drug costs, according to a recent survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of West Health Institute.

The survey of just over 1,000 adult patients found that 78 percent of patients are generally concerned about rising costs in healthcare. That category outranked patient concerns about jobs and the economy, the environment, national security, immigration, and trade.

Chief among those healthcare concerns are high drug prices. In addition to the three-quarters of patients who deemed US drug costs unreasonable, another 65 percent said they are extremely or very concerned about their ability to pay drug bills. Only 11 percent of patients are unconcerned about drug costs.

Patients believe policymakers should likewise be concerned about rising drug costs. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said lowering drug costs should be a priority for Congress; 30 percent said cutting drug costs should be Congress’ top priority.

And currently, the government is falling short of patient expectations for combatting high drug costs, the survey respondents said.

READ MORE: Senate Moves Toward Drug Price Transparency in Consumer Ads

“The rising cost of prescription drugs is a growing economic and public health crisis that hurts the U.S. economy and threatens individual health and financial security, and Americans want solutions. Unfortunately, they don’t feel like they’re getting them from Washington,” Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of the West Health Institute, explained in a statement. “Our representatives in Washington D.C. need to make lower drug prices a reality instead of simply an empty campaign promise.”

Only 23 percent of patients approve of the President’s Drug Price Blueprint released earlier this year. Forty-six percent of respondents disapprove of the blueprint while the rest have no opinion.

Additionally, patients are unhappy with how Congress is handling the drug pricing issue, regardless of political party. Eighty percent of respondents disapprove of Democrat action plans and 84 percent disapprove of Republican plans.

The survey investigated popular strategies for tackling high drug prices, with most patients supporting proposals to allow Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug manufacturers. Current law prohibits Medicare – which is the largest payer of prescription medications – from doing this.

However, 82 percent of respondents said they’d like to see Congress overturn this regulation. Such a move could have considerable industry-wide implications, according to Tim Lash, chief strategy officer of West Health Institute.

READ MORE: Generic Prescription Drug Prices, Patient Cost-Sharing Increase

“As the largest buyer of prescription drugs, Medicare should be able to leverage its purchasing power with drug companies to get better prices for its beneficiaries,” Lash said. “This is a common-sense policy whose time has come.”

Patient respondents also largely support proposals to promote generic drug options as competition with brand name medications (82 percent), and drug price transparency mandates (80 percent).

Other popular solutions included allowing Americans to purchase medications from Canada (65 percent) and eliminating drug advertising (52 percent).

Proposals to make drug prices dependent on patient outcomes were least popular, with only 31 percent of respondents showing support.

The issue of high drug prices is pressing, the report noted. Currently, the US spends $3.3 billion on healthcare, with 10 percent of that going toward prescription drug prices. And while payers are covering a considerable amount of those costs, high patient financial responsibility is still hitting some health consumers hard.

READ MORE: Clinician Org Says Trump Drug Price Plan Harms Patient Care Access

Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents said they currently take prescription medications for a medical condition.

Although 79 percent of those patients have insurance coverage that is helping them pay for their medications, 34 percent nevertheless said they have neglected to fill a prescription or reduced how much they take because of high costs. Twenty-four percent of respondents said they have done this more than once, allowing their medication adherence, and potentially health outcomes, to take a hit.

The government is working to reduce drug costs and enable better patient access to care, although those efforts may not be gaining this survey audience’s approval. Earlier this year, the Administration released a drug pricing blueprint, which foremost called for better drug pricing transparency and other regulatory fixes that could put patients in control of the medications they take.

The administration has also made updates to its price transparency dashboard.

However, many of these efforts do not go far enough, critics say.

The Administration has also adopted a policy that allows some Medicare Advantage plans to use step therapy on some Medicare Parts B and D drugs. The policy would exclude medications that beneficiaries have already been taking.

In theory, this approach should allow Medicare Advantage plans to negotiate better drug prices, and cost savings must be passed along to patients.

Critics maintain that these efforts do not go far enough to cut drug costs for patients. Additionally, critics of the step therapy provision say such practices could harm timely patient access to treatments they truly need.

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