Four in 10 Americans say they have trouble paying for drugs or skip prescriptions or cut pills due to cost

New USA Today/Kaiser/Harvard Poll Finds the Public Sees Real Benefits From Prescription Drugs, But Feels that They Cost Too Much and that Drug Companies Care Too Much About Profits

For immediate release: Tuesday, March 4, 2008
A new poll, the third in a series conducted jointly by USA Today and public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, finds Americans greatly value prescription drugs’ potential benefits for their families, but most believe they cost too much money and many struggle to pay for needed medicines.

Four in 10 Americans (and half of those regularly taking at least one medication) report experiencing at least one of three cost-related concerns in their family: 16 percent say it is a “serious” problem to pay for prescription drugs; 29 percent say they have not filled a prescription in the past two years because of the cost; and 23 percent say they have cut pills in half or skipped doses in order to make a medication last longer.  People are most likely to report one of these three issues if they lack drug coverage (52 percent), if they have low incomes (54 percent) or if they take four or more drugs regularly (59 percent).

The survey finds that while the public values the products drug companies produce, they do not like what they charge and are suspicious of their motivation.  Nearly eight in 10 Americans say that the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, and seven in 10 say pharmaceutical companies are too concerned about making profits and not concerned enough about helping people.  Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the public say that there is not enough government regulation to limit the price of drugs.  Nearly six in 10 say insurers should only pay for new drugs if they are proven to be not just safe but also more effective than existing ones.

At the same time, the public overwhelmingly believes that recent advances in prescription drugs provide benefits.  Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) say that prescription drugs developed over the past 20 years have made the lives of people in the U.S. better, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) say the same about their own and their family members’ lives.  In addition, six in 10 (59 percent) say prescription drugs reduce the need for expensive medical procedures and hospitalizations.

Overall, the public has mixed opinions of pharmaceutical companies, with 47 percent viewing the industry favorably and 44 percent unfavorably.  Drug companies are viewed slightly more favorably than health insurers (40 percent favorable), but significantly less than doctors (81 percent favorable).

Despite recent controversies, more than half the public (55 percent) thinks pharmaceutical companies do enough to test and monitor the safety of their drugs, and the same share (55 percent) trust pharmaceutical companies at least somewhat to quickly notify the public about safety concerns.  Majorities also think that pharmaceutical companies act in an ethical way when testing their products on people (62 percent) and on animals (56 percent).

Other key findings include:

*  Use of prescription drugs.  Half of all adults say that they take a prescription drug daily, and one in five say that they take at least four prescription drugs regularly.

*  Advertising.  Almost all Americans (91 percent) have seen or heard prescription drug ads, and nearly a third (32 percent) have talked to a doctor about a prescription drug they saw advertised.  Among those who talked to a doctor about a drug they saw advertised, 44 percent say their doctor gave them a prescription for that drug and 54 percent say their doctor recommended another prescription (resulting in 82 percent who got a prescription for the drug they asked about and/or another drug).

*  Safety.  Despite recent controversies about drug safety, a majority of Americans (78 percent) say that they are at least “somewhat” confident that prescription drugs sold in the U.S. are safe, with just more than a quarter saying they are “very” confident.  Nearly half of Americans (47 percent) say that there is about the right amount of government regulation of drug safety, while 44 percent say that there should be more regulation and 8 percent say that there should be less.

*  Drug approval process.  About half of Americans say that pharmaceutical companies have too little or the right amount of influence on which drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, compared with about four in 10 who say these companies have too much influence.  A slim majority (52 percent) also says the government moves too slowly when reviewing and approving new drugs.

The nationally representative telephone survey was conducted between January 3 and January 23 among 1,695 adults ages 18 and older, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.  USA Today this week is running news stories drawing on the poll’s results.  Earlier surveys in the USA Today/Kaiser/Harvard partnership addressed health care costs and the impact of cancer on families.  Full results of the new poll are available at
Robin Herman
Harvard School of Public Health
(617) 432-4752

Craig Palosky
Kaiser Family Foundation
(202) 347-5270

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