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High Cost of HIV Meds, Other Drugs Should Be Top Presidential Concern, Most Americans Say

November 10, 2015

High Cost of HIV Meds, Other Drugs Should Be Top Presidential Concern, Most Americans Say

Rising drug costs, particularly for medications that treat chronic infections such as HIV, will likely be a hot-button issue during the 2016 presidential election cycle, according to a new poll from Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). The survey reveals strong support across party lines for governmental action to ensure that drugs are affordable for those who need them.

The KFF telephone survey, which was conducted Oct. 14 to Oct. 20 among 1,203 American adults, found that an overwhelming majority (approximately 77% of the general public) want the president and Congress to prioritize access to "high-cost drugs" for chronic conditions. The question specified HIV, hepatitis, mental illness and cancer as examples of such conditions.

More than half of Democrats, Republicans and independents said that governmental action to lower prescription drug prices should be a top priority. Nearly half of all people surveyed would also prioritize assistance for high out-of-pocket health care costs for moderate-income people.

"Drug pricing is a very important and serious issue. The high cost of drugs is more and more of a barrier for people living with HIV to get access and adhere to their medication," Ronald Johnson, vice president of policy & advocacy at AIDS United, told in reaction to the findings.

"Recent research has shown keeping people in treatment helps prevent new infections. It is important for the individual, the public and for prevention," he added.


In its report on the survey, KFF notes that "[a]s some Presidential candidates begin releasing details of their health care platforms, the public's opinion of priorities in health care becomes increasingly relevant." However, medication pricing isn't a new issue. From 1998 to 2008, the amount Americans spent on prescription drugs more than doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A report from Express Script released earlier this year found that price increases for specialty drugs, such as those used to treat HIV, largely spurred a 13% increase in prescription drug spending.

In September, the 5,000% price increase of Daraprim, a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis -- a parasitic infection that can be life threatening for people with severely weakened immune systems -- brought HIV drug pricing practices to the forefront.

At that time, both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates seized the opportunity to discuss the pricing issue.

In a tweet, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton wrote, "Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous." She later released a prescription drug plan that "would give Medicare the ability to negotiate bulk discounts from pharmaceutical companies, would cap monthly out-of-pocket costs for people with chronic ailments and would hasten the arrival of cheaper generic drugs into the marketplace, among other measures," according to The Huffington Post.

Republican candidate and billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump blasted the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which makes Daraprim, calling the young hedge fund manager a "spoiled brat."

Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., has long been a vocal proponent of fair pricing for HIV medication. In 2011 and 2013 Sanders introduced bills intended to reward pharmaceutical companies for developing affordable, innovative HIV drugs.

"To me, one of the great moral issues of our day is that there are people in our country suffering and in some cases dying because they are not able to afford a medicine that can be produced for pennies per treatment," Sanders said in his opening statement at a 2012 Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging hearing on the high cost of HIV/AIDS drugs.

In October of this year, he paired up with fellow Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, a House member from Maryland, to announce the formation of a task force to investigate the rising cost of prescription drugs.

In his comments to, Johnson emphasized the importance of leadership in changing policies that affect drug pricing.

"The policy environment has to change. We need laws and policy to help curb the rising cost of medication. Senator Sanders has introduced two pieces of legislation that would address the issue of Medicare drug price negotiations. Clinton has introduced an approach that would also address the high prices and place a cap on the out-of-pocket costs," noted Johnson.

"Since a substantial majority of Americans are in support of government action to lower drug prices, there should be a willingness to support an even more aggressive policy stance. By having supportive policy reform that makes drugs more affordable and accessible, we can end the HIV epidemic," he said.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a bipartisan hearing in December as part of its own investigation into recent decisions by some drugmakers to jack up the price of pre-existing drugs.

Althea Fung is the community editor for For her thoughts on the healthcare industry, food and other random musing, check out her personal website, follow her on Twitter or stalk her on Facebook.

Copyright © 2015 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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