Poll: Voters Want Congress to Act on Prescription Drug Prices

Published March 9, 2018

A large majority of registered voters say Congress should prioritize reducing prescription drug prices, according to a poll commissioned by an independent national patient organization focused on achieving policy changes to lower the price of prescription drugs.

In the poll conducted by GS Strategy Group for Patients for Affordable Drugs NOW and released in February, 85 percent of respondents said lowering prescription drug prices should be a priority for Congress this year.

The polling firm interviewed a statistically representative national sample of 800 registered voters contacted via both landline and mobile phones between January 27 and January 31. The survey’s results had a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

Expensive FDA Trials

Bartley Madden, a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) lengthy drug approval process has driven up the cost of prescription drugs.

“Sky-high prescription drug prices for serious illnesses are no surprise, since pharmaceutical firms incur $2.5 billion, on average, in costs to pass the FDA clinical trial process and gain drug approval,” Madden said. “The key to a substantial reduction in drug prices is a radical reduction in the costs of clinical trials while still providing patients and doctors the most up-to-date information about safety and effectiveness.”

Higher Prices, Less Access

Robert Graboyes, a senior research fellow and health care scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, says increasing government regulation will cause drug prices to increase further, lower quality, and decrease people’s access to needed medications.

“If you try to lower prices through price controls or governmental limits, you will get fewer drugs and worse drugs,” Graboyes said. “We’ve seen similar instances through vaccines, though not so much with taxes as with litigation. The production is a lot more fragile than people think, so if you simply try to squash it down by governmental fiat, you’re going to lose access to the drugs.”

Suggests Streamlining

Graboyes says FDA regulations are stifling innovation and raising prices. 

“Are there ways to lower costs?” Graboyes said. “There certainly are. The FDA approval process is too cumbersome, lengthy, and uncertain. You can work for 15 years developing a drug, and the FDA will change the rules in the middle of the game. An awful lot of drugs never make it to the market because the FDA regulatory risk is too much to carry it across the line.”

Madden says FDA processes for drug testing have not been updated for nearly half a century.

“Keep in mind that FDA’s antiquated clinical testing process has remained essentially unchanged since the early 1960s,” Madden said. “The FDA’s monopoly on access to new drugs has restricted competition through a process that can take 12 to 15 years to complete.

“Government bureaucracies, like the FDA, do not willingly reduce their monopoly power,” Madden said. “We finally got one-day mail delivery from the U.S. Post Office due to competition from FedEx.”

Graboyes says FDA testing reform is vital.

“That’s probably the single most important public policy action we can take, which is to somehow speed up the drug approval process in this country,” Graboyes said.