Health Care Act

Political unity: Drugs for chronic ills should be affordable

Gleevec, a lifesaving drug for some leukemia patients, can cost more than $100,000 a year.
Gleevec, a lifesaving drug for some leukemia patients, can cost more than $100,000 a year.

Republicans, Democrats and independents agree on a top priority for the federal government: Making sure people with cancer, hepatitis, mental illness and other chronic conditions can afford their medications.

That’s a rare point of political unity that turned up in the the latest monthly Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, released Tuesday. Respondents split by party on most health-care priorities for the president and Congress. But 66 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats endorsed making high-cost drugs for chronic conditions affordable to people who need them.

Drugs that improve or save lives can cost thousands of dollars a month, falling out of reach of the uninsured and people whose coverage comes with high out-of-pocket costs.

People may agree that’s wrong, but it’s less clear how they want it fixed. A slimmer bipartisan majority, ranging from 51 percent of Republicans to 68 percent of Democrats, said they favor “government action to lower prescription drug prices.” The poll didn’t delve into specific actions. In the case of cancer drugs, federal regulations combine with drug-company business practices to keep prices high.

As usual, the Kaiser poll found deep partisan rifts on everything related to the Affordable Care Act. A majority of Democrats said they want to see Congress force states to expand Medicaid and extend insurance subsidies to more people, while GOP respondents said they want the federal government to repeal “Obamacare” or drop the mandate that everyone get health insurance or pay a fine.

Overall, the latest poll found the country evenly split, with 43 percent (mostly Democrats) saying they have a favorable view of the act and 42 percent (mostly Republicans) reporting an unfavorable view. That’s the first time since 2012 that favorable views have edged ahead, but the gap remains insignificant, Kaiser researchers say.

Helms: 704-358-5033;

Twitter: @anndosshelms. This blog post is done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.