President Obama's major health-care law keeps coming up in the presidential campaign, but as divisive as it is, the Affordable Care Act itself is not a top health priority among most voters, according to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
When asked about which health-care issue should be considered the most important for the next president and Congress, drug prices came in first -- followed by a number of other consumer issues related to health care, such as making sure that insurance plans covered enough doctors and hospitals to be useful.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents said making expensive drugs affordable to chronically ill people should take priority. More than half said taking government action to lower drug prices should be at the top of the list. In contrast, repealing the Affordable Care Act was ranked as a top priority by 37 percent of people. Repealing elements of the law, such as the requirement that individuals without insurance pay a fine or that companies with 50 employees or more offer insurance or pay a penalty were also ranked as a top issue by a minority of respondents.
"It’s just very clear in the polling that these consumer and pocketbook issues are the issues the public is much more concerned about -- and, in a way, that just makes sense," said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "It’s because many more people are affected by those issues than are affected by the ACA."
The law has been polarizing, but the roughly 10.4 million people who bought insurance coverage in the marketplaces for the first half of 2016 is small relative to the 154 million people who get insurance through an employer.
That might help explain why, Altman noted, people have so little awareness of the fact that the number of uninsured people in the country has plummeted under the law. Kaiser previously found that similar numbers of people think it is at an all-time low (which it is) as mistakenly believe it is at an all-time high.
Much of the political discussion about health care in the campaign has been consumed by the Affordable Care Act and the big premium jumps in the marketplaces where people can buy coverage if they don't get insurance through their jobs. This week, government data showed that the premiums for a benchmark plan in the marketplaces would rise by 25 percent on average next year, setting off a firestorm of criticism.
When people were specifically asked about the future of the law, they were split. About a third called for the repeal of the law and a similar number called for its expansion. A fifth of people said they would like the law implemented as it is now.
But overall, voters view health care as a low priority, the poll found. Democratic voters ranked the candidates, the economy, foreign policy and social issues all before health care in determining their vote — tied with immigration. Republicans and independent voters rated health care last in that same list.
Even so, the pharmaceutical industry is not getting comfortable and appears to be girding for a fight to defend its business model and pricing. The trade group for the pharmaceutical industry, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has reportedly increased its dues by 50 percent, giving it deep pockets — $300 million — to draw on post-election for public-relations campaigns, lobbying or other advocacy. This week, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the trade group for the biotech industry, released a video campaign to defend and explain how drugs get their prices, "Understanding your drug costs: Follow the pill."