As election season heats up, there has been a lot of talk about Medicare for all on the campaign trail. While the issue of a single government health plan for all Americans has captivated the Democratic candidates, the majority of U.S. voters care far more about prescription drug prices.
Nationwide polls continually show that the issue most voting Americans care about isn’t Medicare for all, but rather, the high cost of prescription drugs. This has caused a shift in campaign strategy for some candidates, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who are focusing more attention on combating drug costs.
In the lead-up to the Iowa caucus, two-thirds of voters in that state indicated that prescription drug costs were the most pressing healthcare concern. Polls showed similar results in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the states whose primaries follow Iowa. These numbers mirror national trends; in a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation last September, 70 percent of Americans believe Congress should prioritize lowering prescription drug prices while only 30 percent said a national Medicare for all plan should take precedence.
This isn’t to say that healthcare costs aren’t a concern to Americans, but most are focused on drug prices simply because every time a prescription is filled, they are literally reaching into their wallets to pay. There is no hiding that sort of transparency.
Rising costs mean many Americans are forgoing care and no longer filling prescriptions because they simply can’t afford to do so. The implications for their long-term health are staggering.
Prescription drug costs are a bipartisan issue. 70 percent of Americans feel that President Trump isn’t doing enough to address the issue despite a 2016 campaign promise to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies in an effort to lower costs. In actuality, Trump rejected a House of Representatives proposal to grant Medicare this negotiating authority, and other initiatives aimed at controlling drug prices have gone nowhere.
Democrats have seized on this inaction and insisted Trump be held accountable despite their focus on Medicare for all or, in some instances, expanding President Obama’s Affordable Care Act during early campaigning. All leading candidates are in favor of allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies, though some plans are more ambitious than others. Some favor relaxing restrictions on imported drugs, proactively preventing pharmaceutical manufacturers from delaying the development of cheaper generic drugs, and setting caps on pharmaceutical pricing.
The only thing clear at this point is the fact that something has got to change. Big Pharm remains very influential in the Capitol and, unless and until legislation is passed to curb high prices, many Americans are going to pay the ultimate price.