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GOP voters agree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on high drug costs



Republican voters overwhelmingly agree with Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that the federal government should step in and do more to lower the cost of drugs for communicable diseases like HIV, according to new INSIDER polling.

Ocasio-Cortez in a recent House Oversight Committee hearing challenged the CEO of the drug company Gilead on the high cost of Truvada, which was developed in part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as via a $50 million federal grant to an AIDS researcher in San Francisco.

The freshman Democrat took issue with the HIV-preventing drug costing nearly $2,000 per month, and questioned why it was so much cheaper in other countries like Australia. Gilead’s CEO said the high price of Truvada could be explained by the company’s patent on the drug, which was not a satisfying response for the New York lawmaker.

Read more: ‘People are dying for no reason’: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez confronts drug company CEO over HIV medication costing almost $2,000 a month in the US and only $8 in Australia

“We the people developed this drug,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We paid for this drug. … There is no reason this should be $2,000 a month. People are dying because of it!”

Ocasio-Cortez’s impassioned questioning highlighted one of the thorniest issues in the broader debate over health care in the US: Should the government be able to influence the pricing of drugs for preventing or treating communicable diseases, especially in cases where it’s played a role in the drug’s development?

Ocasio-Cortez signaled that she believes the government should play a major role in influencing drug prices in such instances, and a stunning number of Republican voters agree with her.

INSIDER asked Americans to support one of four viewpoints that best describe how the government can intervene for drug-pricing for things like the HIV drug Truvada. We asked, “Government research sometimes helps develop a new drug that treats a communicable disease like HIV. What best describes your view about how much influence the federal government should have when private manufacturers or big drug companies sell treatments based on that research?”

These are complex topics, but the activists, drug companies, reformers and free market advocates all make valid points. We asked them to select from one of five options, one of which was “I don’t know.”

  1. A more ambitious approach favored by the activists: “The government should be able to exert complete influence over pricing for those drugs it helps develop, even by allowing generic competitors to hit market before patents expire.”
  2. A more modest policy that would shift current policy towards more federal influence: “The government should be able to weigh in on pricing, but at most by capping the prices of drugs it aids in development or by subsidizing their costs.”
  3. The policy that most resembles the status quo and advocated by pharmaceutical manufacturers: “Drug makers should be lightly regulated on pricing and their intellectual property, otherwise they might not develop drugs.”
  4. A policy to grant manufacturers more leeway than currently exists: “Drug manufacturers should have absolute control over pricing and access, because allowing them to charge whatever the market will pay maximizes their incentive to innovate.”

Of the 1,083 who answered the question, 26% supported the activists’ position, 44% supported the more modest reform, 10% most liked the third option while only 5% backed the fourth position, expanding the power of the companies to control pricing.

Those who said they’d participate in a Democratic primary skewed more in favor of the reformist positions — 80% — but the fascinating finding was that voters who backed the GOP are picking up what AOC is putting down: According to INSIDER’s poll, roughly 45% of likely GOP primary voters believe the government should be able to weigh in on pricing, but at most by capping the prices of drugs it aids in developing or by subsidizing their costs, while 20% of likely GOP primary voters said the government should be able to exert complete influence over pricing for those drugs it helps develop, even by allowing generic competitors to hit the market before patents expire.

To put it another way, approximately 65% of Republicans agree the government should play at least some role in influencing prices of drugs like Truvada.

The poll found that about 45% of likely Democratic primary voters support allowing the government to cap prices it helps develop or subsidize their costs, while about 35% said the government should be able to exert complete influence over pricing for drugs it helps develop.

Read more: The vast majority of Republicans support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders’ plan to cap credit-card interest rates at 15%

The GOP doesn’t often support Ocasio-Cortez’s policies

The results of this poll are surprising in many ways given Ocasio-Cortez’s viewpoints are frequently vilified by Republican lawmakers and conservative media outlets.

Republicans also tend to oppose the federal government having too much sway on virtually any issue — particularly health care — and generally favor allowing the market to run its course believing it will foster innovation.

But the freshman Democrat has evidently struck a nerve on this particular issue.

INSIDER framed the poll in a very deliberate way, because PrEP and Truvada are unique medications in that they have the power to slow the advance of a communicable disease. Expensive HIV drugs are different than expensive cancer drugs because you can’t catch cancer from another person.

Meanwhile, the federal government has a vested interest in treating communicable diseases for public health reasons, and if high pricing jeopardizes that goal, based on our poll citizens seem to be willing to empower the government to take bold steps.

There’s a strong case to be made that the government has ethical and financial incentives to lower the cost of drugs for communicable diseases. If more people can afford such drugs, it theoretically means public health crises are less likely, and based on this polling people would consider Truvada to be in that class.

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,168 respondents collected May 17-18, 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 3.08 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

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