California Drug Price Bill Faces Backlash

| by Katie Landoll
A prescription pill bottleA prescription pill bottle

A California ballot initiative to cap prescription drug prices has met with opposition, not just from the pharmaceutical industry, but from some patient advocacy groups as well.

The Department of Veterans Affairs usually gets its prescription medications at a deep discount -- on average, around 42 percent of the list price -- by limiting the kinds of drugs it offers and getting special deals for veterans, reports the Los Angeles Times.

California’s Proposition 61, called the Drug Price Relief Act, is meant to capitalize on the buying power that makes VA drugs so cheap. The measure would prohibit state programs like Medicaid from paying more for prescription medication than the VA does.

The California Nurses Association and the California AARP both support the measure, according to The New York Times. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont endorsed the measure at a campaign stop in Sacramento, blaming the pharmaceutical industry’s “greed” for profiting off people “in desperate need of lifesaving drugs,” reports the LA Times.

Drug companies are staunchly opposing the measure as an expansion of price controls. The California Medical Association called it “deeply flawed and unworkable,” according to The NY Times. The LA Times cited experts that believe the industry will spend $100 million on the campaign against the bill by the time it is voted on in November.

Opposition to the measure is also coming from patient advocacy groups who say the measure could backfire and undermine the VA’s protections, The NY Times reports.

Anne Donnelly of Project Inform, a patient advocacy group, says she agrees with the intent of the measure but doesn’t believe it will have the intended effect. “It doesn’t appear to save the State of California any money, and it could have some negative effects.”

The LA Times notes that some experts believe that drug companies only offer the VA such low prices because they are confident they will only have to offer the discounts to veterans. If those prices are used more widely, it could cause the companies to increase costs across the board and simply charge the VA more.

Sources: The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, California Healthline / Photo credit: Charles Williams/Flickr

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