Survey shows support for drug price controls

  • FILE- In this July 10, 2018, file photo bottles of medicine ride on a belt at the Express Scripts mail-in pharmacy warehouse in Florence, N.J. As Democrats in Congress consider whether to back a revamped regional trade pact being pushed by President Donald Trump, they’re zeroing in on a new point of conflict: Drug prices. They contend that the new pact would force Americans to pay more for prescription drugs, and their argument has dimmed the outlook for one of Trump’s signature causes. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File) Julio Cortez

State House News Service
Published: 7/29/2019 12:01:48 AM

BOSTON — A new survey out Thursday indicates overwhelming support for legislation to tackle prescription drug prices in Massachusetts, highlighting what a pollster described as a rare point of consensus in the often contentious debate around health care.

The poll, conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan firm PerryUndem and sponsored by Health Care for All, found that 88 percent of voters support the idea of state lawmakers taking steps to lower drug costs for patients.

The poll also tracked high levels of support for components of a bill filed by Rep. Christine Barber and Sen. Jason Lewis. After hearing its provisions outlined, 88 percent of respondents – 93 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of independents, and 85 percent of Republicans – said they’d support that bill becoming law.

“This is a common human problem, and it’s not one party’s problem or another,” pollster Mike Perry said. “This is a place of consensus in focus groups, a rare place of consensus, a place where people can agree we need to do more to reduce the costs of prescription drugs.”

More than 80 percent said they wanted lawmakers to pass a bill that would both increase transparency on the underlying costs of producing prescription drugs and take additional steps to set payment limits on high-cost drugs. Twelve percent said they wanted a bill that would just increase transparency.

“I think they will look at a bill that only deals with transparency as window dressing,” Perry said. “It’s just not enough. It’s just not enough. They are done tolerating baby steps, and they really want both to be taken care of.”

Lewis and Barber’s bill (H 1133, S 706) would require more transparency around the pricing and costs of drugs, authorize the state Health Policy Commission to set an upper price limit on drugs deemed to have unreasonably high costs, regulate pharmacy benefit managers and require pharmacists to tell patients if the retail price of a drug is cheaper than the co-pay if they use their insurance.

“Increases in the cost of prescription drugs are really at this point the major driver of growth in health care spending, and that is putting an enormous squeeze on family budgets, [and] has a big impact on our seniors and other low-income and vulnerable members of the population,” Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, said. “It’s very challenging for small businesses and also for government budgets.”

This year’s $43.1 billion state budget, which lawmakers sent Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, includes language authorizing the Executive of of Health and Human Services to negotiate supplemental rebates for MassHealth on the most expensive drugs.

Barber, a Somerville Democrat, called that section “a really important step forward.”

“It is just one step, and it still means that for all of us who get insurance through our employers or private insurance, we are still paying higher costs for prescription drugs and there isn’t a way for drugs to be negotiated in the same way,” she said. “The bill that Senator Lewis and I filed, along with the coalition here, does just that.”

Officials in the competitive prescription drug industry over the years have aimed to protect proprietary information about drugs, including drug development costs, and emphasized that drugs should be broadly evaluated not just on their costs but on their effectiveness in helping patients.

At an April legislative hearing on drug pricing bills, Patrick Plues of the Biotechnology Industry Organization it costs $2.6 billion for a drug maker to bring a product from its research and development stage to market, including expenses associated with efforts that fail along the way. Leslie Wood of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said efforts to set prices for drugs could have a negative impact on the competitive market.

Asked at the hearing what provisions of the Lewis/Barber bill PhRMA would be “OK with,” Wood pointed to an academic detailing component and said her organization thinks providing “science-based information to doctors is a great idea.”

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