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Poll: Nevadans think the cost of prescription drugs is too high, diabetes is a 'serious problem'

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly
Health CareLegislature

The overwhelming majority of Nevadans believe the cost of prescription drugs is too high and think the pharmaceutical industry is to blame, according to a recent poll obtained by The Nevada Independent.

The poll’s release comes as Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela’s SB265, which would increase transparency from pharmaceutical companies over diabetes drug costs and mandate certain disclosures from pharmaceutical sales representatives and health care nonprofits, continues to work its way through the legislative process. The bill was heard in Senate Finance on Saturday and is scheduled for a committee vote on Monday.

The poll, paid for out of Cancela’s campaign account, was conducted by David Binder Research between April 17 and 20. It sampled 505 people in both English and Spanish with a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Cancela said that she felt it was important to poll the issue because the bill is “unlike anything that’s been done in recent Nevada history.”

“I thought it was really important to have a gauge on the public's opinion on this kind of a measure,” Cancela said. “While it's clear there is a problem, I wasn't sure if there was public support for addressing the problem in this specific fashion, and I think the poll really shows that this is an issue people want action on.”

She also said she wanted to have data as a tool for her conversations with fellow lawmakers and show public support for the bill.

“I think that the data allows for there to be a conversation about public support and the public's desire for change on this issue,” Cancela said. “I think that's a good tool with policymakers.”

The poll shows Nevadans tend to believe that diabetes is either a “serious problem” for the state (63 percent) or a “public health crisis” (11 percent). When told that more than 1 million Nevadans have diabetes or are pre-diabetic, that insulin prices have skyrocketed for patients and that diabetes costs the state $2.4 billion a year, 67 percent of Nevadans believe the disease is a “serious problem” while 19 percent think it’s a “public health crisis.”

They also, by and large, have an unfavorable impression of pharmaceutical companies (57 percent) and insurance companies (51 percent), while they tend to view pharmacies favorably (72 percent).

According to the poll, 80 percent of Nevadans believe the cost of prescription drugs is too high, while 15 percent believe that they are just right. The vast majority of them, 65 percent, believe that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for the costs of prescription drugs, while 18 percent blame insurance companies and 8 percent blame pharmacies.

The Nevada data backs up a perception that exists across the country that prescription drugs are too expensive and that the pharmaceutical industry is to blame. Even President Donald Trump, in a January 11 press conference, said that drug companies were “getting away with murder.”

To combat that public perception, the trade association representing pharmaceutical companies in the United States, PhRMA, launched its “Go Boldly” ad campaign to focus on the way that the pharmaceutical industry is making strides in science and discovering new treatments. Pharmaceutical companies argue that middlemen in the drug pricing process known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and insurers negotiate heavy rebates and discounts off of the list prices of drugs and aren’t passing the savings along to consumers, resulting in high drug costs.

The difficulty is that the only publicly and consistently available numbers on prescription drugs are the list price and the amount that someone pays at the pharmacy counter, making it difficult to tell whether it is pharmaceutical companies, PBMs or insurers who are taking the biggest slice of the pie. That’s part of what Cancela aims to address through her bill by requiring companies to disclose the costs of manufacturing drugs and the rebates they give to PBMs.

The poll also gauges the public’s opinion on controlling the prices of diabetes drugs, a portion of the bill that Cancela struck from her bill due to constitutional concerns raised by legislative lawyers. She has said that she remains hopeful that the constitutional issues can still be worked out before it is sent to the governor’s desk.

More than half of Nevadans (52 percent) would support controlling the price of insulin, with 36 percent opposed to the idea and 16 percent unsure. A plurality said that they would be less likely (45 percent) to vote for their state legislator if they voted against controlling the price of insulin, while 23 percent said it would make them more likely and 20 percent said it would make no difference.

Respondents were also inclined to believe that if legislators voted against controlling the price of insulin it was because they had received major campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies (50 percent) and not because of their philosophical opposition to government interference in the free market (24 percent).

If lawmakers voted against controlling the price of insulin and took contributions from pharmaceutical companies, 71 percent of Nevadans said they would be less likely to vote for them. Respondents also believed that pharmaceutical companies were spending money in Nevada because they believe lawmakers are easily influenced (65 percent), not because they think Nevada is important (15 percent).

The poll also asked whether making Nevada the first state in the country to control the price of insulin would make them “more proud or less proud” of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s job when he is termed out of office in two years. Fifty-two percent said they would be more proud, 21 percent said less proud and 16 percent said it made no difference.

Presented the arguments for and against controlling the price of insulin, 47 percent were inclined to agree with supporters who say that insulin was developed 90 years ago and that pharmaceutical companies make minor changes in the formula for insulin so they can prevent a generic version that would cut into their profits.

Twenty-seven percent agreed with opponents of the measure who argue that pharmaceutical companies invest billions in research and believe it’s fair that they are able to recover their investment, that price controls on insulin set a precedent for government interference in the free market and that companies will stop investing in research if they are unable to profit from inventing drugs.

Read the full poll below:

SB265 Poll by Megan Messerly on Scribd

Photo courtesy of Alan Levine under Creative Commons.


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