Op-Ed by James L. Martin
With the November election fast approaching, politicians in both parties are struggling to best position themselves on healthcare reform. A new poll provides some surprising insights into what a winning strategy on this issue might look like. The poll finds that an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of American voters oppose government rationing of medical care – a practice that looks to be picking up steam under the Obama administration. If candidates don’t distance themselves from rationing this fall, they probably won’t be in office come January.
Commissioned by the 60 Plus Association, the poll surveyed over 800 registered voters. Fully 82 percent of respondents said that they oppose government medical rationing based on costs. Over half think the new healthcare law will lead to rationing. Importantly, this fear isn’t confined to Republicans – nearly 40 percent of the people with this view voted for Obama in 2008. Public confidence is also shaky when it comes to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal body primarily responsible for determining which drugs patients have access too. Forty two percent of voters expressed distrust with the agency. And 72 percent said that the FDA’s approval decisions should not be based on cost-effectiveness calculations.
These beliefs have political consequences. Typically, seniors are the patient group most affected by the FDA’s actions. And among seniors that identified themselves as "swing" voters, 82 percent said they want the agency to avoid cost-based decisions.
Respondents were also asked about the FDA’s highly controversial deliberation over the breast cancer drug Avastin, which is at risk of losing its approval. The FDA approved Avastin for late-stage breast cancer treatment in 2008, and today, it’s prescribed to approximately 17,500 women. Independent clinical studies have concluded that more than 30 percent of women who take the drug live longer — with a media gain of 5.7 months. Some live years longer.
The medicine is expensive — it costs about $8,000 per month — but it’s currently covered by Medicare and private insurance. If the FDA rescinds its approval, the medicine would only be available "off label" to those who could afford to pay for it out of pocket. Given voters pronounced opposition to rationing in general, their feelings about Avastin weren’t surprising.
A full 63 percent said they opposed the idea of the FDA revoking approval for the drug. And 78 percent expressed worry that such as decision would represent the start of serious healthcare rationing in America.
Overall, 68 percent of self-identified swing voters don’t approve the potential Avastin move. Among swing voters, that number gets even higher if you whittle it down to the groups that would most heavily rely on Avastin for their health.
Again, the concern isn’t confined to Republicans. Sixty percent of Obama voters don’t want to see Avastin revoked. Even among self-identified "strong liberals," 58 percent wouldn’t support the decision.
Voters plan on taking these concerns to the polls. Over two-thirds of respondents said that they would be less likely to vote for any member of Congress that supported the FDA’s decision to restrict or deny access to pharmaceutical drugs like Avastin. Opposition to medical rationing transcends political party. Democrats and Republican both overwhelmingly oppose the practice. When the government denies access to life-saving treatments like Avastin, patients get hurt – and then they punish politicians at the polls.
Policymakers should take note. Or else they’re not going to like what happens in November.
James L. Martin is chairman of the 60 Plus Association, a nonpartisan seniors-advocacy group in its 18th year with a free-enterprise, less-government, fewer-taxes approach to seniors issues. 60 Plus has more than 5.5 million citizen-activists.