Americans getting fed up over high drug prices

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Americans love their prescription drugs, and aren’t shy about having plenty on hand. Last year, U.S. pharmacies filled more than 4 billion prescriptions, up from 3 billion in 2001.

But how do people feel about drug prices? Let’s just say the pharmaceutical industry shouldn’t pack up its army of lobbyists and public relations people just yet. In fact, they might want to hire a few more.

According to a new Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, 77 percent of Americans said the cost of drugs was “unreasonable”—up from 72 percent a year ago.

There are plenty of possible reasons, including a spate of headlines this year about the soaring cost of Epinephrine pens.

That’s on top of a flurry of stories last year about companies profit-gouging by jacking up prices on products from Daraprim (a treatment for toxoplasmosis) to Isuprel (a treatment for slow heart rate and heart block).

All that has prompted plenty of scrutiny and outrage—front-page headlines, Congressional hearings and denunciations by presidential candidates.

But that hasn’t stopped drugmakers, including Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., from raising prices.

According to a report in March by the Department of Health and Human Services, prescription drug spending rose by 12.6 percent in 2014, following unusually slow growth of about 2 percent a year between 2008 and 2012.

But the level of unhappiness is growing. People don’t like rising prices for drugs—and they want action. According to the new poll:

•    86 percent want to require drug companies to release information to the public on how they set their drug prices.

•    82 percent want the federal government to be able to negotiate with drug companies to get a lower price on medicines for people on Medicare.

•    78 percent want to limit the amount drug companies can charge for high-cost drugs for illnesses like hepatitis or cancer.

•    66 percent want the government to create an independent group that oversees the pricing of prescription drug.

•    49 percent want to eliminate prescription drug advertisements.

•    49 percent want to encourage people to buy lower cost drugs by requiring them to pay a higher share if they choose a similar, high-cost drug.

“There is widespread support for a variety of actions in order to keep costs down,” the Kaiser poll says.

Other polls don’t give the industry much comfort, either. A Gallup poll in August ranked the pharmaceutical industry 24th out of 25th in public esteem, above only the federal government.

The drug industry defends itself by saying that its medicines provide huge value to patients, helping them live longer and stay healthier. It also says that spending on prescription medicines is the same share of health care spending as it was in 1960. Drug companies also spend millions of dollars to bring drugs to market and millions more on drugs that never make it that far.

Eli Lilly, for its part, has long said that while there have been some big increases in individual drug prices, the cost of drugs is rising very slowly and remains a small part of health spending.

All those points could be true. But increasingly, the American public doesn’t seem to be buying it.

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