Stories

Prescription drug costs break through the partisan logjam

Americans are divided along party lines in terms of the presidents they like, the news networks they watch, and even where they live. They disagree sharply on the Affordable Care Act and almost everything else in health care. But there is one issue Republicans and Democrats agree on: They want to lower the costs of prescription drugs.

We just surveyed Americans on the issue as part of our latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll. As this chart shows, Republicans are almost as likely as Democrats, and more likely than independents, to pick lowering the costs of prescription drugs as a priority for President Trump and the Congress. It's the number two priority in health for all Americans, just behind reducing out of pocket costs in general.

Data: Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, April 17-23, 2017; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

In fact, Republicans are substantially more likely to pick lowering prescription drug costs as a priority than traditional conservative goals such as decreasing the role of the federal government in health or decreasing federal health spending. (It could be a sign that drug prices have a more direct impact on their lives.)

President Trump has also talked up the need to take on drug costs, at times favoring both Medicare price negotiation and importing cheaper drugs from other countries. Drug prices, it seems, stands on a pedestal by itself as a bipartisan priority.

Reflecting this bipartisan support, the public favors pretty much any action to lower drug prices you can throw at them in a poll. Topping the list in public support:

  • Allow the federal government to lower drug prices: 92%
  • Make it easier to bring generic drugs to market: 87%
  • Require drug companies to disclose how they set their prices: 86%
  • Limit prices for high cost drugs: 78%

One policy that is receiving attention — allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada — is supported by 72% of the public. And although some former FDA commissioners think that could undermine safety, the public isn't worried: 76% think that will make drugs cheaper without sacrificing quality, while just 35% agree that it could expose Americans to unsafe drugs.

Often support for ideas in the abstract dissipates when there is a debate about the pros and cons of legislation and winners and losers emerge. That is what happened in the first go-around in the House on the GOP health care bill, which has not been popular with the public. The strength and breadth of the support for dealing with out-of-pocket drug costs suggests that public support is much less likely to wane for those proposals.

Of course, the fact that policies are popular does not necessarily mean they are wise, nor does it mean that the drug companies will not be able to defeat them, working their magic in the halls of Congress as health care's powerful interest groups always have done.

Still, if partisan division has become the single most powerful force in health policy, this may be one issue that breaks the pattern.