Another Survey Says Americans Want Price Controls on Health Care..What A Shock

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  • 08/20/2015
Lots of news about a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) showing that a majority of Americans (76 percent) strongly or somewhat support government price controls on prescription drugs.  

Let's set aside the survey's skewed approach to polling:  It singled out prescription drugs for such polling (i.e. there was no question asking people if they knew what they paid for drugs was already controlled -- by health plans -- and that prices were increasing though drugs remained a small share of insurer costs) and it undersampled Republicans and healthy, middle income people.   Indeed, the oversampling of Democrats and Independents and the focus on drug prices appears to be part of a broader effort to get drug price control referendum on the ballot in key primary and battleground states like Ohio and California.  

Let's instead ask what is the implication of the findings.

According to KFF CEO Drew Altman.. 

“Rightly or wrongly, drug companies are now the number one villain in the public’s eye when it comes to rising health-care costs,” said Foundation President Drew E. Altman, Ph.D. “People want to rein in the cost of prescription drugs, and just about anything we poll on with that aim gets public support.”

Altman did say that. But not about the recent poll.  He said it about a survey taken a decade ago. 

The same could be said about other surveys conducted by Kaiser or by their partner in polling, Harvard's Robert Blendon..

In 1984 seventy seven percent of Americans favored prices controls on all medical services.  In 1994 that figure was 72 percent.  

I bet if I surveyed people to see if they favored price controls on data plans or college tuition or food, I'd get the same number. 

All of which proves what polling pioneer Daniel Yankelovich concluded after looking through mounds of Gallup polling data:

The factual ignorance and fickleness reflected in surveys like the KFF tracking polls are often counterbalanced by a remarkable sureness of judgement in applying basic values... 

These polls generate headlines and help groups supporting such referendum to raise money.  They don't shape policy.  In fact, with one or two exceptions that were disastrous (Truman and Nixon's wage and price controls) the American electorate has shied away from outright price controls or laws that would limit the choice of medicines to what is cheapest such as mandatory generic substitution.  

As a result, American has since the 1960s, outpaced the world in the development of important treatments for HIV, cancer, Hepatitis C and heart disease that -- since 1990 -- have reduced death and disability as well as made treating people with these illnesses much less expensive (and more effective) compared to older therapies. 

So perhaps in addition to polls and ballot initiatives promoting price controls, stakeholders and patient groups should commission surveys and propose referendum about how health plans limit access to new medicines by hiking drug prices and saying no to new medicines.  


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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