COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Debate is heating up over an initiative headed to Ohio’s fall ballot that backers say is aimed at controlling drug prices.
The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act is a citizen-initiated statute supported by the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. It seeks to bar state agencies from buying drugs at prices higher than those paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which receives deep discounts.
A similar ballot measure went before California voter last year. Proposition 61 failed after the pharmaceutical industry spent $109 million to defeat it, with another $20 million spent in support.
The argument against such restrictions is that they will reduce access to medicines and potentially raise prices for veterans and others. The argument in favor is that the caps will save the state money and possibly lead to bringing down drug costs more broadly.
OPPONENTS LABEL PROPOSAL ‘DECEPTIVE’
Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue, a broad coalition organized by opponents, has kicked off its vote-no campaign. Among its members are associations of nurses, doctors, pharmacists and psychiatrists, veterans groups, a faith alliance and business groups, including the Ohio Manufacturers Association and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
Coalition campaign manager Curt Steiner said the ballot proposal is unworkable and misleading. “While everyone agrees that Ohioans need access to affordable medicines, this deceptive and vaguely worded initiative won’t fix the problem or do what it promises,” he said. Besides its primary component, the coalition says, a second provision of the measure would give the ballot issue’s four named co-sponsors a right to intervene at taxpayer expense in any legal challenges filed against the initiative after the election.
SUPPORTERS TARGET ‘LYING’ BY PHARMA
Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, representing supporters including California activist Michael Weinstein, say their goal is to end the so-called “price-gouging practices of the drug industry.”
They urge Ohioans to view an expensive TV ad campaign funded by opponents with caution. “The drug industry’s TV ads should come with a U.S. Surgeon General’s warning: The lies being spread by the corporate drug cartel and by their CEOs are hazardous to the health of millions of Ohioans, including 164,000 children,” said Dennis Willard, the group’s spokesman.
Weinstein’s nonprofit says it’s treated 720,000 patients in 15 states, including Ohio, and 39 countries, as well as providing 5 million free HIV tests. It calls itself the largest community-based provider of HIV/AIDS health care in the world and says its mission is undercut by “runaway drug prices.”
Assessing the financial impact of the ballot initiative on Ohio’s finances is difficult.
The Ohio Department of Medicaid, the largest state purchaser of prescription drugs, said it has not yet conducted an analysis.
Under the current system, the state cuts direct deals to purchase drugs, under which it sometimes is already eligible for hefty discounts, or rebates. Those pharmaceuticals aren’t only flowing through Medicaid, either. They’re provided through a host of other agencies, including to Ohioans housed in adult and youth prisons, developmental disability centers and state veterans’ homes.
The ballot initiative’s mandate also could affect prescription coverage provided to state workers and retirees through their pension funds.