New survey finds little support for expensive drugs and treatments in America

A new survey by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Alliance for Aging Research finds that a majority (62 per cent) of Americans oppose decisions by the government or health insurance plans where prescription drugs or medical or surgical treatments are not paid for because the payers determine that the benefits do not justify the cost. The exception is if there's evidence that something else works equally well but costs less.

A majority (64 per cent) of Americans believe the government or health insurance plans should not pay for a more expensive prescription drug or medical or surgical treatment if it has not been shown to work better than less expensive ones. Majorities in Italy and Germany share both of these beliefs with the US public. In the United Kingdom, at least a plurality shares these beliefs.

''Despite a common presumption that public resistance to placing limits on the use of expensive drugs and treatments is an American phenomenon, similar attitudes also exist in other countries,'' said Robert J Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.

''The results of the survey underscore the need for balance between measures to control health care costs and ensuring that Americans receive high quality health care at all stages of life, particularly for the growing aging population,'' said Daniel Perry, President & CEO, Alliance for Aging Research.

New efforts to slow the growth of health care costs may be hampered by the belief of two-thirds (67 per cent) of Americans that government or health insurance plans already often withhold high-cost prescription drugs and medical or surgical treatments from some people who might benefit from them in order to save money. Majorities in Italy and Germany, but not the UK, also believe this to be the case in their own countries.

The survey included four case examples of actual decisions where the high cost of a prescription drug or diagnostic test was not thought by payers to be justified by its overall benefits. People were read a description of the decision without mentioning in what country it was made or the name of the prescription drug or test involved, and then asked whether they would favor or oppose the decision if it were made in their own country.

In the following case example, describing a decision in the UK involving Avastin and bowel cancer, a majority (59 per cent) of Americans said they would oppose such a decision if it were made in their country. This decision was also opposed by the majorities in the other three countries.