In reality, the federal government has spent billions to help private companies research and develop the coronavirus vaccines. It’s continuing to fund the vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It’s spent a couple billion more to help manufacture vials and syringes, too. Drug price negotiation for Medicare has pretty much nothing to do with the response of the federal government and private companies to a global pandemic. But Republicans aren’t going to let a little thing like reality get in the way when they think they’ve got a good gotcha talking point. Democrats will argue back that U.S. consumers, including the taxpayer through the Medicare program, are paying the price for cheap prescription drugs in countries that do have price controls.
Democrats can also point to public polling, which has pretty consistently shown that the American public supports efforts to control prescription drug costs, and that majority support crosses political divides. Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in February 2019 found that 79% of Americans say the cost of prescription medicines is “unreasonable.”
That’s not all: “At least eight in ten—across party identification—say profits made by pharmaceutical companies are a ‘major factor’ in the price of prescription drugs.” There’s massive public support in this KFF poll for allowing the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices—86%, and that includes 80% of Republicans. This is an incredibly stable finding, mirrored in polling from KFF dating back to 2016.
It’s also valid across polling. A Gallup survey conducted a year ago found that two-thirds of U.S. adults reported that their prescription drug costs had increased over the past three years. Thirty percent said that lowering drug costs was “the single most important issue” or “among the most important issues” influencing their vote in the 2020 election. And in what’s really bad news for Republicans on this one, 75% of people wanted Senate Republicans to bring up and pass H.R. 3. That included 72% of Republicans.
Pre-coronavirus, Gallup found that the pharmaceutical industry was “the most poorly regarded industry in Americans’ eyes, ranking last on a list of 25 industries that Gallup tests annually.” So Republicans aren’t going to gain much with voters by becoming the industry’s champions.