imageMost Americans support price controls on drug and medical device manufacturers, hospitals, and payments to doctors, along with allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

U.S. health citizens, now consumers, have been experiencing sticker-shock when it comes to prices on medical bills upon hospital discharge, leaving the doctor’s office, filling a prescription at a pharmacy or receiving a specialty drug recommended for a serious medical condition.

The HealthDay/Harris Poll of 5 November 2015 quantifies their observation that Americans Want Bold Steps to Keep Health Care Costs in Check.

The topline of the Poll shows that:

  • 73 percent support price controls on drug and device manufacturers.
  • 70 percent would like price controls placed on hospitals.
  • 66 percent want to authorize Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
  • 63 percent support price controls on payments to doctors.
  • 56 percent want to be able to import less expensive drugs from other countries.

In October 2015, the top culprits blamed by U.S. consumers for the high cost of health care are seen to be:

Pharma companies, cited by 88% of consumers

  • Health care system as a whole, 88%
  • Insurance companies, 87%
  • Hospitals, 79%
  • The way we pay doctors and hospitals, 74%
  • Doctors, 64%
  • The Affordable Care Act, 58%.

One’s political lens has an impact on how a consumer reads the person’s health care cost challenge. 65% of Republicans tend to blame the Affordable Care Act’s impacts on health insurance premiums. More Democrats (71%) say pharmaceutical companies are to blame for the high costs of health care borne by consumers, although 59% of Republicans do blame drug companies for high costs, as well.

The Poll was conducted online in October 2015 among 2,072 U.S. adults.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Quite recently, the key stakeholders blamed for health care costs — hospitals, health plans, physicians and pharma — have begun to respond to consumers’ cost concerns through their professional associations. In response to the big insurance mergers, the AMA, representing many of the nation’s physicians, came out on 17 November 2015 with a policy supporting patient-consumers’ access to “quality, affordable health care in the insurance marketplace,” thus focusing on health plans and premium costs. Their topline: a call for the FTC and Department of Justice to block Aetna’s acquisition of Humana, which the AMA presumably believes would lead to higher costs to consumers through market consolidation.

On the drug pricing front, which tops consumers’ list of who-to-blame, the industry association PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association” is going on the offensive, The Hill reports. In the blame game of health politics, PhRMA is blaming health insurance companies who create prescription drug benefit plans that levy higher costs onto consumers through aggressive tiering of drug prices and narrowing formularies for covered therapies.

The most vulnerable of these healthcare pricing “scoundrels” in Congress, and on the presidential campaign trail, are the drug companies who are receiving above-the-fold coverage in news media for so-called price gouging stories. I can confess from my inbound voicemail messages that this is a question on which I’m getting asked to opine more than any other over the past few months, such as my interview with Institutional Investor here.

While price controls have been raised as a health-political issue perennially over the past thirty years, this latest scenario is different owing to several factors: the fast-growth of specialty drugs coming onto the market at prices that can exceed $100,000 for a therapy; the growing adoption of high-deductible health plans in U.S. health care, exposing more patients to first-dollar coverage for health care services and products; and, the use of social media by consumers and physicians (such as the oncologists at Sloan-Kettering in New York City) which have been effectively communicating the patient-consumer side of health care costs.