Kaiser Family Foundation: Public not buying pharma's arguments over drug price reforms

Drug prices
A new poll from Kaiser Family Foundation discovered a large majority of Americans don't buy pharma's arguments against giving Medicare drug price negotiation authority. (Getty/Tero Vesalainen)

A vast majority of the public rejected a common argument from the pharmaceutical industry that high drug prices are needed to fund more innovative products, a new poll finds.

The poll, released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, comes as pharma is waging a massive lobbying war to prevent Democrats from giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices as part of a $3.5 trillion infrastructure package.

The foundation’s latest health tracking poll of 1,146 adults asked respondents their thoughts on Medicare drug price negotiation after hearing arguments for and against the plan.

Before hearing the arguments, 83% of respondents favored giving Medicare negotiation powers. But after hearing the arguments the number only dipped to 82%.

A large swath of the public also rejected a common argument from the pharmaceutical industry that drug price negotiations will cause funding for new drugs to dry up.

Kaiser found that 93% of respondents agreed that even if the prices were lower drugmakers would still make enough money to fund new products. Only 6% agreed with the statement that drug companies need to charge high prices to fund new drug research.

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Only 33% of respondents agreed with the argument that Medicare price negotiation would lead to too much government involvement and lead to fewer new drugs being developed in the future.

Top pharma lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) said in a statement Tuesday that the poll is misleading. 

"This poll doesn’t present the whole debate and relies on straw-man arguments to steer the public toward a desired outcome," the group said.

While most respondents, including across both political parties, urge action there is little confidence that Washington will follow through.

“Less than half of the public say they have confidence in President Biden (46%) and Democrats in Congress (48%) to recommend the right thing on prescription drug prices, while a third say they have confidence in Republicans in Congress (34%),” according to a release on the poll.

The lack of confidence comes as Democrats have not yet coalesced around a plan for drug price negotiation.

A trio of moderate House Democratic lawmakers rejected legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would give Medicare negotiation powers for certain high-cost products and make drugmakers apply those prices to commercial plans.

Moderates in the House have instead endorsed a narrower policy that gives Medicare power to negotiate for only certain drugs on Part B that have no competition or exclusivity.

Progressive lawmakers have, on the other hand, pressed for broad authority that applies to more drugs in Part D and would apply the negotiated prices to commercial plans.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters last month he has been in constant talks with moderates on how to bridge the gap in differences.

“I believe this is going to get done,” he said. “I tried to articulate a path that I think ensures consumers are protected.”