Prescription-drug costs have vaulted to a prominent position in the 2016 presidential campaign, with both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders advocating for cost controls such as allowing drugs to be imported from abroad and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. The Obama administration has also taken an interest in the issue. On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services will host an all-day forum on the topic.
And all that interest can be at least partially attributed to a spike in voter concern. A recent poll conducted by Morning Consult found that a majority of voters in the four early primary states—in both parties—think it’s “very important” for a presidential candidate to address holding down the cost of prescription drugs. The poll was sponsored by the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April found that three-quarters of the public views drug affordability as a “top priority.”
An August Kaiser poll found that large majorities of Americans support popular cost-control policies: 86 percent favor requirements that drug companies release information to the public on how they set drug prices, 83 percent support allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, 76 percent support limiting how much companies can charge for high-cost drugs, and 72 percent support allowing Americans to buy drugs imported from Canada.
These numbers, it seems, are not being lost on some congressional Republicans.
“It is a tough question, because it’s probably the No. 1 thing that people are complaining to us about back home when it comes to their health care costs,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, when asked whether Congress should act to control drug costs. “I recognize that it’s expensive to bring new prescription drugs online, but you've got to figure out a way that allows these treatments to be affordable.”
Multiple bipartisan congressional investigations into the matter are ongoing. Sens. Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley launched an investigation into Sovaldi, a drug treating Hepatitis C, last year. And earlier this month, Sens. Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill, chair and ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, announced an investigation into drug pricing. “The announcement follows a series of media reports detailing dramatic drug price increases—often on older, off-patent drugs—after the acquisition or merger of pharmaceutical companies,” an announcement release said.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry finds itself on the defensive. Leading up to Friday’s forum, it has maintained that health care costs should be looked at across the entire system, and that drug innovation has increased both quality and length of life.
The defense is necessary. A June Kaiser poll found that 76 percent of the public blames pharmaceutical companies for setting drug prices too high. And even congressional Republicans are skeptical of drug makers.