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 half adults say they are currently taking at least one prescription drug and about a quarter say they currently take four of more prescription medications.
While nearly eight in ten adults say the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, most of those who are currently taking prescription drugs say affording their prescriptions is easy (74%).
Affordability is a bigger issue for those who are currently taking four or more prescription medicines. Twice as many of those taking four or more prescription drugs say they have difficulty affording their prescriptions (35%), compared to adults who currently take three or fewer prescription medications (17%).
Indeed, certain groups are much more likely to report difficulty affording medication, including those who are spending $100 or more a month on their prescriptions, those who report being in fair or poor health, those who take four or more prescription drugs, 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 five who report that they have not filled a prescription or took an over-the counter drug instead, and about one in ten 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.
There have been proposals 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. 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, 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.