LOS ANGELES — The pharmaceutical industry clinched a big — and expensive — victory in California, where voters rebuffed a ballot measure seeking to curb prescription drug prices paid by the state for millions of retirees, prisoners and poor people.
Health policy experts said the outcome won’t be the last word on the growing anger over rising drug costs.
“There are so many forces that are aligning for some kind of public policy or regulation on pharmaceutical prices. I don’t think this ‘no’ vote really stops that. There’s too much frustration,” said Darius Lakdawalla, a health economist at the University of Southern California.
Opponents to Proposition 61 garnered 54 percent of the 8.5 million votes counted Wednesday after spending more than $109 million to defeat the measure, saying it would reduce access to medicines and raise prices for veterans, seniors and others.
The so-called California Drug Price Relief Act would have required certain state health plans to pay the same prices for prescription medications as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which typically receives deep discounts for its purchases.
Independent observers said heavy spending and the murky world of drug pricing may have played in the industry’s favor.
“When things are hard to figure out, it’s easy for people to pass on them,” said Michelle Mello, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in health policy.
Supporters hoped the initiative would have provided significant savings for the state and could have forced the industry to begin reducing prices elsewhere.
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, was not surprised by the vote given how supporters were outspent by the opposition campaign, which prominently featured military veterans in advertisements.
“There’s universal support for veterans” and voters may have been reluctant to change the status quo, said Weinstein, whose group raised the bulk of the more than $18 million spent in support of the measure.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is focusing on a similar drug pricing ballot initiative that will go before voters in Ohio in 2017.
Proposition 61 produced the most spending of California’s 17 statewide initiatives, and would have affected between 4 million and 6 million people including prison inmates, government retirees and some low-income residents on Medi-Cal, the state’s low-cost or free Medicaid health plan for the poor.
Since the measure did not force drug makers to offer the VA price to California, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said it was unclear whether California would save much money.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America called Proposition 61 “flawed policy” and “not the answer to the challenges people face accessing their medicines.”
Drug pricing has come under the national spotlight after several high-profile price increases including Turing Pharmaceuticals raising by 5,000 percent the cost of a drug for a life-threatening parasitic infection and Mylan’s price hikes of a pair of EpiPen emergency allergy shots, which shot up more than 500 percent since 2007.
Apr 03, 2017 0