Public attitudes towards drug prices: not as bad as you might think(?)

Public attitudes towards drug prices: not as bad as you might think(?)

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that 73% of respondents believe drug prices are “unreasonable,” with no statistical difference in those who take prescription meds and those who do not. The survey received some media coverage, mostly in stories addressing other facets of the drug price debate but, digging deeper, we find that the industry’s reputation may have actually improved a bit over the past decade.

For example, Kaiser queried respondents on what they believe is driving drug prices. The top factors and the percentage of people identifying them as major contributors were:
• Profits – 77%
• Medical Research – 64%
• Marketing and Advertising – 54%
• Cost of Lawsuits – 49%

When Kaiser did this same survey ten years ago, 70% of respondents said profits were the industry’s top concern, so not much change here. Back then, however, less than a quarter of respondents identified “saving lives and improving quality of life” as a leading industry concern. If we can roughly equate “saving lives and improving quality of life” with R&D spending, it suggests that industry PR campaigns to educate the public on the cost of drug development are getting through, albeit not in a way that supplants the perception that drug manufacturers are primarily profit-driven.

The 2005 survey also found 65% approval for government regulations to limit drug prices, but support for additional measures of this type fell to 53% this year. Declining support for price controls is interesting in that, due to dramatically higher government spending via Medicare Part D and components of the Affordable Care Act, such controls are actually politically more feasible now than in 2005. It’s another example of the cognitive disconnect between consumers (patients) and purchasers that distinguishes health care from most other areas of the economy.

So there’s a bit of good news from a public perception angle here, but pharma executives would do well to maintain some discipline in the pricing arena. After all, the flipside of the health-sector disconnect between consumers and purchasers is that consumers are most definitely not the final decision-makers in these matters. Had Kaiser surveyed lawmakers, PBM managers, or even doctors, i.e. the people who are actually in a position to do something about drug prices, trending attitudes towards the subject would likely be quite different.

Donald Clark
Donald Clark


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