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Big majorities say government should work to curb prescription drug price hikes

The drug prices are too damn high — and most people want the government to do something about it.

More than three-quarters of Americans believe that the cost of prescription drugs are "unreasonable," according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Thursday.

And large majorities of people say they are in favor of a broad range of policy changes that would give the government more power to keep drug costs down, the survey found.

Among those suggested policies are the creation of an independent body that would oversee the pricing of prescription medication: 66 percent of respondents said they favored that idea.

Even more people, 71 percent of respondents, were in favor of allowing importation of drugs from Canada, where prices tend to be lower. And 78 percent supported capping how much drugmakers can charge for high-cost medications for illnesses such as hepatitis and cancer, two conditions for which pricey treatments have become more common.

The greatest level of support — 82 percent and 86 percent of people, respectively — was given to the ideas of allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for people on Medicare, and mandating that drugmakers publicly release information on how they set prices. Medicare, which spends more than $110 billion annually on medications, is not allowed to negotiate drug prices.

The Kaiser poll, which was conducted via cellphones and landlines in the middle of September, questioned 1,204 adults, and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The survey comes amid an ongoing controversy over a fivefold increase in the price of lifesaving EpiPen anti-allergy devices, which now cost more than $600 for a pack of two auto-injectors.

But Mylan, which makes EpiPens, is just the latest drug company to draw the wrath of Congress and customers for its high prices.

Despite that fury, and past outrage over prescription drug costs, little if anything has changed in terms of policy.

Unlike many countries in Europe, the United States does not limit the prices that drugmakers can set. Reductions in drug costs come from insurance companies and other payors negotiating with pharma companies.

An article published last month by the JAMA Network of the Journal of the American Medical Association said per capita spending on prescription drugs in the United States "exceeds that in all other countries, largely driven by brand-name drug prices that have been increasing in recent years at rates far beyond the consumer price index."

In 2013, per capita U.S. prescription drug spending "was $858 compared with an average of $400 for 19 other industrialized nations," the JAMA article said.

"Although prices are often justified by the high cost of drug development, there is no evidence of an association between research and development costs and prices; rather, prescription drugs are priced in the United States primarily on the basis of what the market will bear," the authors wrote.