Let’s get something straight: The behemoth pharmaceutical industry did not spend more than $77 million to defeat state Issue 2 because it cares about the economic well-being of Ohioans.
Big Pharma pulled out all the stops to kill the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act because it knew passage would set a dangerous precedent.
Drug manufacturers enjoy free rein in this country because they have used their enormous wealth to buy support in the Republican-controlled Congress and state legislatures.
The industry is so powerful it has succeeded in killing any initiative designed to control drug prices.
Thus, state Issue 2 on the Nov. 7 general election ballot in Ohio was considered blasphemy by Big Pharma because it sought to curb prescription drug prices paid by the state for prisoners, injured workers and poor people.
Had the measure passed, Ohio would have been able to buy prescription drugs at prices no higher than what the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs pays.
The VA receives a federally mandated discount of 24 percent on prescription drugs.
Approval of Issue 2 would have opened the floodgates to similar citizen-initiated statutes around the country.
Drug manufacturers weren’t about to let that happen, and they hired several well-known political consultants in Ohio to develop a hard-hitting campaign based on fear mongering.
The consultants, who undoubtedly made out like bandits and laughed all the way to the bank, came up with a catchy title for the campaign: Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue.
The word “deceptive” formed the underlying message of the television campaign. The argument put forth was simply this: If state Issue 2 passes, a relatively small number of Ohioans would benefit from lower drug prices, while a lot more people would be hit by skyrocketing drug prices.
The opponents presented no independent analyses to support their claims, but they didn’t have to. They crowded the airwaves with dire warnings of disaster, and the public was sold.
The effort to lower prices for an important segment of the population was rejected by a wide margin election night.
The complete but unofficial vote-count showed the issue went down in flames. More than 1.8 million Ohioans voted “no,” compared with slightly more than 474,000 in the “yes” column.
ISSUE 2 PROPONENTS OUTSPENT
It is instructive that while Big Pharma, through a subsidiary of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, spent almost $80 million, the proponents spent $17 million.
All of that money came from the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, run by Michael Weinstein.
But it was Big Pharma’s deep pockets that won the day because the opposition was able to recruit representatives of medical and veterans organizations to bolster its message.
This question that looms today: Who, in addition to the political consultants, shared in the drug makers’ largess? Were the doctors, nurses and veterans featured in commercials paid? Were former state officials rewarded financially for their participation in the campaign?
But that isn’t the only cause for concern about how Big Pharma conducted the campaign.
Because the opposition was financed by a subsidiary of Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, there is no statutory requirement that it disclose its specific donors.
Had the voters known the identities of the companies that contributed money to defeat state Issue 2, they could have explored the obvious ulterior motives inherent in the opposition.
We had urged passage of state Issue 2 because it would have resulted in a legal challenge by Big Pharma. That would have opened the door to the chief executive officers being deposed and being called as witnesses.
We believed that forcing the CEOs to testify under oath about their exorbitantly high drug prices would have tempered any move by Big Pharma to punish Ohioans for voting “yes.”
But now, with the defeat of Issue 2, many residents of the state will continue to be at the mercy of the greedy drug companies. Senior citizens on fixed incomes will continue to choose between spending money on food or life-saving and life-sustaining medicine.
The simple message from drug manufacturers to the state of Ohio was this: Don’t mess with us.