In November, Ohio voters will decide if state government agencies should be able to buy prescription drugs at prices no higher than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays.
At first glance, the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act, a citizen-initiated statute, seems to be a no-brainer. After all, just about everyone believes the pharmaceutical industry is involved in price manipulation.
Yet, the ballot issue isn’t as clear-cut as it would appear. The reason: Proponents and opponents are engaged in an intensive, expensive war of words via television commercials and in-depth newspaper stories.
Unfortunately, rather than providing much needed clarity, the point-counterpoint has served to muddy the waters.
Adding to the public’s confusion is the fact that each side’s campaign is being financed by very deep pockets.
Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices is leading the effort to pass the issue, and is sponsored by the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The $800 million foundation is presided over by Californian Michael Weinstein.
The opposition, led by Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue, is being funded by the pharmaceutical industry.
Thus the question that has preoccupied members of The Vindicator Editorial Board after meetings with representatives of each campaign: Who should we believe?
The bottom-line argument put forth by Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices does resonate: At least 4 million Ohioans who receive their drugs through state agencies would pay less because the state would realize significant cost savings. The Veterans Affairs department receives a federally mandated discount of about 24 percent on prescription drugs.
The proponents have pegged the savings at about $400 million.
But Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Drug Ballot Issue has summarily dismissed the figure as having no basis of fact.
Indeed, the opponents warn that passage of the state issue in the November general election will result in increased drug prices for those Ohioans who do not get their prescription drugs from the state. They also contend that while the VA’s discount of 24 percent would be applied, the federal agency negotiates other discounts with drug manufacturers that are not made public.
They also warn that Big Pharma, which is paying for the flood of television commercials urging Ohioans to vote no, could retaliate by curtailing the supply of important life-sustaining drugs in the state.
In response, the proponents argue that the pharmaceutical companies are not going to jeopardize one of their most lucrative markets by pulling out of Ohio.
As we said at the outset, the question that continues to baffle us is this: Who should we believe?
The League of Women Voters of Ohio will be issuing its Voters Guide in September that will contain a detailed explanation of the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act, along with the pros and cons of the issue from each perspective.
The league’s review of the ballot issue will be “objective truth,” according to Carrie Davis, executive director of the LWV of Ohio. However, the organization will not render judgment on the claims being made by the proponents and opponents, Davis said.
But that’s exactly what Ohio voters need to make an informed decision.
We believe that objectivity is the key to such research and, therefore, urge one of the state universities to undertake this important assignment. Youngstown State University gets our vote.
There are many qualified, experienced public-policy researchers who would have little difficulty separating fact from fiction.
If there is a cost associated with such an analysis, we are confident both sides of the issue would be more than happy to foot the bill. They are spending a boatload of money to sway the voters.
Given the pharmaceutical industry’s poor track record in setting prices for life-saving drugs, Ohioans should disabuse themselves of the notion that altruism is driving Big Pharma’s opposition. The industry is worried about other states following suit.
On the other hand, the push by Weinstein and his AIDS Healthcare Foundation to win passage of the issue in Ohio after voters rejected a similar initiative in California prompts concerns about his intentions. Does Weinstein have a national agenda that goes beyond the prescription drug-cost issue?
Objective research would provide the necessary insight to help Ohioans make the right decision.