Public Opinion on Prescription Drugs and Their Prices
KFF research has consistently found prescription drug costs to be an important health policy area of public interest and public concern. Below are some key findings on the public’s experience with and perceptions of prescription drugs and their prices.
About six in ten adults say they are currently taking at least one prescription drug and a quarter say they currently take four of more prescription medications.
While about eight in ten adults (83%) say the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, most of those who are currently taking prescription drugs say affording their prescriptions is easy (69%).
Affordability is a bigger issue for those who are currently taking four or more prescription medicines. Three in ten of those taking four or more prescription drugs say they have difficulty affording their prescriptions (32%), compared to one in five adults who currently take three or fewer prescription medications.
Indeed, certain groups are much more likely to report difficulty affording medication, including those who take four or more prescription drugs, those with chronic conditions in their households, and those with an annual household income of less than $40,000.
About three in ten adults report not taking their medicines as prescribed at some point in the past year because of the cost. This includes about one in six (16%) who report they have not filled a prescription, about one in five (22%) who took an over-the counter drug instead, and 13% who say they have cut pills in half or skipped a dose.
The public sees profits made by pharmaceutical companies as the largest factor contributing to the price of prescription drugs. About eight in ten across partisans say profits made by pharmaceutical companies are a “major factor” in the price of prescription drugs. This is followed by about seven in ten who say the cost of research and development is a “major factor” contributing to the price, and about half saying that the cost of marketing and advertising is a major contributing factor to the cost of prescription drugs.
The May 2021 KFF Health Tracking Poll finds about two-thirds of adults say there is “not as much regulation as there should be” when it comes to limiting the price of prescription drugs. Majorities across partisans, including seven in ten Democrats, about two-thirds of independents and nearly six in ten Republicans say there is “not as much regulation as there should be” when it comes to limiting the price of prescription drugs.
When it comes to lowering the cost of prescription drugs, majorities of partisans trust their own party to do a better job on this issue. Independents are more likely to trust the Democratic Party than the Republican Party to do a better job of lowering the price of prescription drugs.
When the public are asked which party they think deserves the most blame if Congress is unable to pass legislation lowering the cost of prescription drugs, they place the blame evenly across policymakers from both sides of the aisle. The vast majority of Democrats say the blame will fall on Republicans in Congress (82%), while equal shares say the blame falls on President Biden (8%) and Democrats in Congress (8%). Among Republicans, Democrats in Congress get the majority of the blame (58%), while 29% say the blame will fall on President Biden. Four in ten independents (43%) say Republicans in Congress will deserve the most blame, while about half say Democrats in Congress (24%) or President Biden (27%) will.
Despite this, neither party in Congress has gained the full confidence of the public to do what’s right for the country on prescription drug pricing. Slightly less than half of the public say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in President Biden (46%) or Democrats in Congress (48%) to recommend the right thing for the country on prescription drug prices. One-third of the public (33%) say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in Republicans in Congress and few are confident that pharmaceutical companies will recommend the right thing (14%). A slight majority of adults are confident in AARP’s ability to recommend the right thing for the country on prescription drug pricing.
There have been several proposals aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs. The October 2021 KFF Health Tracking Polls finds majorities, across partisans, support a wide range of proposals including most notably – allowing to allow the federal government to negotiate with drug companies to get a lower price on medications that would apply to both Medicare and private insurance and the KFF Health Tracking Poll finds majorities support this proposal, regardless of party identification. Majorities also favor Indeed, there is majority support for a number of proposals aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs including more than seven in ten who favor increasing taxes on drug companies that refuse to negotiate the price of their drugs with the government, limiting how much allowing Medicare to place limits on how much drug companies can increase the price of drugs based on annual inflation rates, allowing Americans to buy drugs imported from Canada, placing an annual limit on out-of-pocket drug costs for people with Medicare, and making it easier for generic drugs to come to market.
Nonetheless, despite concerns about costs, the public generally sees the benefits of prescription medicines as about six in ten adults believe prescription drugs developed over the past 20 years have generally made the lives of people in the U.S. better.