Drug price relief could still be included in spending bill

Some relief from the high cost of prescription drugs may yet be part of President Biden’s social spending bill, and that would make a large majority of Americans happy.

Some relief from the high cost of prescription drugs may yet be part of President Biden’s social spending bill, and that would make a large majority of Americans happy.

The website Stat.com and other media outlets are reporting that negotiations over drug pricing reform continued over the weekend and into Monday, despite earlier reports that proposals to rein in drug prices would not be part of the $1.75-trillion Build Back Better legislation.

Stat.com reports that Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has laid out the three “consensus policies” that would be in the bill: letting Medicare negotiate prices for insulin and some drugs covered under Medicare parts B and D, limiting Medicare beneficiaries’ annual out-of-pocket spending to $2,000, and prohibiting prescription drug prices from rising faster than the inflation rate.

Meanwhile, Arizona Senator Mark Kelly tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “We’ve now reached an agreement that will drive down prices and lower out-of-pocket costs for seniors.” The proposals for reining in drug prices have drawn strong opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and some Congressional Democrats, so their inclusion in any final legislation remains uncertain.

What is clear, however, is that Americans strongly favor such measures. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll released last month found 83% adults either “strongly” or “somewhat” favor allowing the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies, including 95% of Democrats, 82% of independents and 71% of Republicans.

Even when presented with arguments for and against the government negotiating with drug companies, public support for the idea remains high. About a third of those surveyed said the arguments against negotiating were “very” or “somewhat” convincing, compared with 84% who said they were convinced by arguments in favor of negotiations.

Presenting pro and con arguments does bring out some partisan differences on the issue, however. After hearing the arguments for and against negotiating, the percentage of Republicans who say they strongly favor it drops from 44% to 28% but remains nearly identical (66% and 67%) among Democrats. Even so, 71% of Republicans overall are in favor of the government negotiating drug prices.

The survey also found that 93% of adults believe that even with lower drug prices, pharmaceutical companies would still earn enough to invest in the research necessary for new drug development, in effect rejecting a key industry argument against reducing prices. Here too, support crosses party lines with 96% of Democrats, 93% of independents and 90% of Republicans agreeing.

But while large majorities of the public favor the idea of price negotiations, far fewer express confidence that President Biden, political parties or pharmaceutical companies would recommend what’s right for the country in such negotiations.

According to the survey, 46% have “a great deal’ or “a fair amount” of confidence in the president and 48% in Congressional Democrats, to recommend the right thing for the country, while 33% say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in Congressional Republicans. 14% have confidence in drug companies recommending the right thing.

The poll found that 85% of Americans 65 or older have some form of insurance to help pay for prescription drugs. Nevertheless, about 20% of older adults—including 17% of those with some type of prescription drug coverage—report they have difficulty affording their prescription medications.