California Voters Divided On Drug Price Ballot Measure But Support Other Health Initiatives

Less than a week before the election, California voters’ support for Proposition 61 appears to have eroded, and they are now evenly split on the controversial measure that would limit what the state pays for prescription drugs, according to a poll released Friday. But they’re leaning in favor of several other health-related initiatives on Tuesday’s statewide ballot.

Forty-seven percent of Californians say they plan to vote for Proposition 61, which would prohibit state health programs from paying more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which typically gets the lowest prices.

And exactly 47 percent say they will vote against the measure, according to the survey, conducted by The Field Poll and the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. Six percent remain undecided or say they might abstain from voting.

Compared to last month’s poll, “the Yes side support has declined slightly, and nearly all of those previously undecided have moved to the No side,” the pollsters wrote. Voters may be responding to the well-funded “No on 61” campaign, backed mostly by pharmaceutical companies, which had raised more than $109 million as of Nov. 2 to defeat the measure. Supporters have raised only $16 million.

The poll shows that voters are more amenable to the other health care-related initiatives on the California ballot.

Among them is Proposition 52, which would make permanent a fee the state collects from private hospitals to bring in extra money for Medi-Cal, California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. About 66 percent of voters favor this “Hospital Quality Assurance Fee,” while only 29 percent plan to vote against it, and 5 percent are undecided, according to the survey.

For a state to get federal funds for its Medicaid program, it must contribute an equal amount of its own money. The hospital fee is one source of such funding for California. But under current law, it must be renewed every two years.

The dollars generated are used to fund hospital services and health care for children enrolled in Medi-Cal. In addition to making the fee a perennial feature of state health care financing, Prop. 52 would make it more difficult for lawmakers to divert the money from its intended purpose.

California voters also seem inclined to pass Proposition 55, which would extend by 12 years a personal income tax increase on earnings of more than $250,000 a year that was approved by voters in 2012. The poll shows that 59 percent of those surveyed support the measure, 38 percent oppose it and 3 percent remain undecided.

The money raised by this initiative would be allocated to K-12 schools and community colleges, and in certain years, $2 billion of it would be earmarked for Medi-Cal, which now serves more than 13 million Californians. As of last week, the “Yes on 55” campaign had raised $57 million.

Meanwhile, 55 percent of Californians surveyed say they’ll vote for Proposition 56, which would increase the tax on cigarettes by $2 per pack, with an equivalent increase on other tobacco products. Forty-three percent oppose the cigarette tax and 2 percent are undecided, according to the poll.

California has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation, currently at 87 cents per pack. Prop. 56 would drive the total tax up to $2.87, putting the average cost of a pack at about $7.50. Revenue from the tax would be spent on smoking cessation programs, research and physician training, as well as dental disease prevention programs.

Supporters say research shows that cigarette taxes can indeed decrease smoking.

A 2014 report by the U.S. surgeon general said that smoking declined 4 percent for every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes. Proponents of the tax, including the American Cancer Society and a coalition of health care professionals, had raised approximately $35 million as of Thursday. Tobacco companies have raised twice as much to defeat it.

The Field poll was conducted online from Oct. 25 to Oct. 31. Questions were asked in English and in Spanish with sample sizes of 998 or 999 people for each measure. Field Poll officials say that online surveys do not easily lend themselves to the calculation of sampling errors, so the new polls do not provide such information.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that 48 percent of Californians polled opposed Proposition 56. The correct percentage is 43 percent.

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