Ballot measure would let Calif. negotiate drug prices, part two

Published 7:00 am Friday, December 9, 2016

The fight in California over a ballot initiative that would begin to control the price of pharmaceuticals paid by state programs shows how difficult it is to “do something” about the high price of prescription drugs.

The fight in California reveals one of the biggest political and powerful obstacles of all – money.

Two weeks before the election, the drug industry had poured $109 million into its campaign to defeat the measure, a sum that makes it the most expensive campaign for or against a single ballot initiative in the state’s history, according to Salazar’s group,

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High on the list of companies giving money to defeat the measure are household names like Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Pfizer, which each tossed in more than $9 million. 

Their arguments have a familiar ring, similar to ones the drug industry has used before when price controls edged too close to their bottom lines.

They argue that government interference with prices could lead to higher drug costs, treatment delays and even denial of coverage.

They say the proposal offers little guidance for implementation.

Their tactics are familiar too.

They’ve enlisted the help of several patient advocacy groups to support their position – groups like the California Hepatitis C Task Force and the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, which have received recent drug industry contributions.

When Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus asked Kathy Fairbanks, the spokeswoman for the “No Prop 61” campaign,” if she’d characterize high drug prices as a problem for patients, she said no, that’s not how she would put it.

“It’s an issue, how about that?” She added healthcare costs are top of mind for a lot of people, but “Proposition 61 isn’t the answer.”

It’s fair to ask:  Then what is it?  Two other weaker attempts in California to “do something” about drug prices failed this year. One was a measure to require insurers to give detailed information about drug costs and drug makers to give notice of future price increases.

The other would have required more transparency about research and development, production and marketing costs for drugs with a wholesale price of more than $10,000 a year.    

The battle is being fought on the airwaves, and voters are confused.

Money talks!  The question remains: When will the needs of the public and the health system in general talk louder?

What do you think should be done to control drug prices? Write to Trudy at

By Trudy Lieberman