Ohioans will vote on ballot issue aimed at reducing drug prices

By Jordyn Grzelewski



Ohio voters will see on the November ballot an initiative that aims to control drug prices.

The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act, a citizen-initiated statute, would require state government agencies to purchase prescription drugs at prices no higher than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays. The VA receives a federally-mandated discount of approximately 24 percent on prescription drugs.

Proponents of the statute say it would result in significant cost savings for the state and reduce drug prices for many Ohioans. The proposed statute would directly impact an estimated 4 million Ohioans.

Opponents contend the act would have the opposite effect, saying that many Ohioans would actually see higher drug prices and reduced access to medications.

Both sides are now in the midst of what is likely to be an expensive campaign leading up to the election.

Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, the group leading the effort to pass the act, is sponsored by the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The organization backed a similar ballot measure in California last year that the pharmaceutical industry spent upwards of $109 million to defeat.

The pharmaceutical industry is funding the opposing campaign, Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue.

Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue has brought together a broad coalition opposed to the statute, from veterans groups to medical associations to business organizations.

The campaign claims that the Drug Price Relief Act is unworkable, would likely increase drug costs for Ohioans who do not get their medicines through state programs, has the potential to increase the state’s prescription drug costs, threatens to reduce access to medicines and puts at risk other discounts the VA receives.

The group argues the act would be unworkable because it’s not publicly known what discounts the VA receives. The VA negotiates additional discounts with pharmaceutical companies on top of the federally- mandated discount

So, “The lowest price paid is not actually known,” said Barbara Edwards, a former Ohio Medicaid director who is part of the opposition.

Supporters of the act argue that drug companies could simply cooperate with state agencies to provide that information.

Edwards said, too, she believes the act would have the unintended consequence of raising prices for many Ohioans.

“It’s more likely going to increase my co-payment as the state tries to drop its net cost,” she said. “It’s certainly not going to decrease it.”

“It’s a simplistic idea that’s attractive, emotionally,” she said.

“I believe Ohioans need lower drug costs,” agreed Dale Butland, a Democratic political consultant and communications director for the Deceptive Rx Issue campaign. “With this, they will get higher drug costs. That’s why I’m against it.”

Proponents of the Drug Price Relief Act disagree.

Dr. Robert Ruff, a neurologist for a VA medical center who is volunteering with Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, said he does not believe drug companies would be willing to risk their sales by raising prices for customers who do not get medications through state programs. He also does not believe that, contrary to what the opposition says, pharmaceutical companies would stop supplying drugs in such a large market.

“They’re not going to stop supplying the state of Ohio,” said Matt Borges, former Ohio Republican Party chairman and member of Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices.

Borges said Ohio has the chance to lead the first significant drug-price reform in decades, and “break the stranglehold” the pharmaceutical industry has on prescription drug prices.

“We’re going to stand up to the bully. And we think the bully will back down,” said campaign spokesman Dennis Willard.

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