The AIDS Healthcare Foundation's proposed measure to reduce prescription drug prices in California is simple enough: Require the state to negotiate prices just like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does. Proponents say it will lower costs for state programs, potentially save taxpayers millions and ease rising medical costs for the most vulnerable.
The backers say they have enough signatures and that the public is overwhelmingly behind the California Drug Price Relief Act with 81 percent in support. The initiative would require government health programs to only contract with drugmakers at prices that are the same as or lower than those paid by the VA, which typically gets deep discounts on medications from drug manufacturers
Predictably, Big Pharma is already gearing up for a wildly expensive, probably misleading, propaganda campaign against the California Drug Price Relief Act. But what about the other well-funded healthcare players in California?
Even though the initiative hasn't been approved for the November 2016 ballot yet, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is already mobilizing, setting up a fund of more than $10 million to fight the bill. Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, along with Pfizer Inc., Eisai Co., Purdue Pharma LP, the Medicines Co., Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Daiichi Sankyo, have all given so far, according to the California Secretary of State.
It will be interesting to see if the California Medical Association, the California Hospital Association, health insurers and others support the proposal. All of them have notoriously objected to any type of restraints on billing, or charges or rate review of their products. But it's not like they don't have the money. Doctors, hospitals, health insurers and others spent $110 million in 2014 to oppose measures that would have regulated health insurance insurance rates, require drug testing for doctors and ease caps on medical malpractice awards.
But CMA and CHA have already joined to boost Medi-Cal payments through either legislation or an initiative. It would be difficult for them to say we should support increasing taxes because it will help the most vulnerable and then oppose a prescription drug proposal that would help lower costs for the most vulnerable.