Status of Proposed Ballot Measures Addressing Prescription Drug Costs Examined
The San Diego Union-Tribune on Wednesday examined the "battle between consumer groups and the pharmaceutical industry" over lower-cost prescription drugs that is "threatening to escape the confines of the Legislature and escalate into a full-scale ballot war in the fall." The article highlighted the status of various groups' proposed ballot measures.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights on Tuesday decided to end efforts to qualify a ballot measure addressing prescription drug costs for a possible special election because of a "lack of funds," the Union-Tribune reports. FTCR's proposal would have relied on bulk purchasing agreements to negotiate lower prices for some prescription drugs.
Consumer advocacy group Health Access last week began gathering signatures for a measure based on a prescription drug discount program in Maine. Under the proposal, uninsured Californians would be eligible for discounts if their annual incomes did not exceed 400% of the federal poverty level or if they spend more than 5% of their income on medical expenses. Companies that would opt out of the program could be restricted from participating in Medi-Cal.
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, said, "We believe we need a strong measure to get better discounts. The governor's proposal has no hammer to bring the drug companies to the table." He added, "The special election presents an opportunity for us to put before voters some controls on price-gouging by the pharmaceutical industry. We're going to take it."
The Alliance for a Better California, a group of unions, supports the plan.
Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America spokesperson Jose Hermocillo said the plan would "basically hold medical patients hostage."
The Western Center on Law and Poverty also opposes the Health Access measure, saying that the proposal could compromise Medi-Cal beneficiaries' health by potentially denying them access to needed medications.
The pharmaceutical industry is building a $10 million campaign to support proposed ballot measures to enact Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) prescription drug proposal.
Hermocillo said the industry wants "to make sure that consumers get the best prescription drug proposals" among competing measures. PhRMA members -- including Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer -- have donated money to support the industry's campaign in favor of the Schwarzenegger proposal and two additional ballot measures that would make it more difficult for unions to collect dues and limit attorney's fees.
Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) supports Schwarzenegger's plan and has introduced legislation (SB 19) to enact the governor's plan. She said, "We as Democrats have to be open to being able to serve five million Californians and providing 40% discounts," adding, "I'm working with the administration. But we may part ways."
Schwarzenegger has not said whether he supports PhRMA's efforts for a ballot measure, according to communications director Rob Stutzman. "We're hoping that there's a legislative solution," Stutzman said.
However, Assembly member Dario Frommer (D-Glendale) said, "If this goes to the ballot, PhRMA ... will lose. Voters understand that (the pharmaceutical industry) is flexing its political muscle to block real reform" (Ainsworth, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/23).