State Issue 2 supporters and opponents came to Dayton on Thursday night to trade statistics, stories and barbs — and repeatedly accused the other side of distorting the facts and making bogus claims or promises.
The exchanges during a public forum about Issue 2 at Sinclair College featured a lively and combative debate focused primarily on whether the ballot initiative would actually lower drug prices in the state.
Foes and supporters of Issue 2 agree that there is widespread confusion about the initiative among voters, but they blame one another for causing it by running deceptive campaigns.
“This is a really important issue … but I think it’s an issue that is about as clear as mud for most of us, so we’re hoping to clarify some things this evening,” said WHIO Radio news director Brittany Otto, who moderated the panel discussion.
The forum was hosted by WHIO Radio, the Dayton Daily News, WHIO-TV, Sinclair and the League of Women Voters of the Greater Dayton Area.
Dayton Daily News reporter Katie Wedell and WHIO-TV anchor James Brown selected questions for the panel submitted by audience members and people who listened or watched the discussion at home.
Thursday’s forum was broadcast live on WHIO Radio and online at DaytonDailyNews.com and WHIO.com.
Based on questions from listeners, viewers and audience members, many people want to know if Issue 2 truly would save the state and taxpayers money and how it would impact consumers who do not receive medications through state programs.
Panelists, however, gave very different answers about what will happen if the ballot measure passes on Nov. 7.
Issue 2 would save the state and Ohio taxpayers $400 million each year by requiring it to pay no more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, said Matt Borges, former Ohio GOP chairman and a representative from “Yes On Issue 2.”
The VA gets a 24 percent federally mandated discount on all drugs sold to the agency, and the state can get those savings, leaving more public funding for schools and other programs and could support tax relief for Ohioans, he said.
The passage also would “create immediate demand in the marketplace for prices to come down — for the federal government, other states and private entities as well,” Borges said.
“It lowers prices for everyone,” he said.
But Dale Butland, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) and a representative of Vote No on Issue 2 campaign, said nearly every expert who has studied the ballot initiative has concluded that it will raise drug costs for most Ohioans while decreasing access to medications for vulnerable residents.
Butland said the two-thirds of Ohioans who do not get medications through state health insurance programs will not save “one penny” if Issue 2 passes, and they would likely see higher prices since drug companies will have to shift costs to these consumers.
Butland said Ohioans may be angered by rising drug prices but approving Issue 2 will not make medications any more affordable and could cost Ohioans millions of dollars more through higher prices.
“Yes, we all need access to affordable drugs, but Issue 2 isn’t the answer – it’s a prescription for disaster,” he said.
Throughout the night, Borges and Butland took shots at each other and launched blistering attacks on the motivations of the other side’s campaign.
The drug companies spent $126 million dollars to defeat a similar ballot issue and California and have already spent more than $30 million on TV ads in Ohio to try to sink Issue 2, Borges said.
“You think it’s because they care about their patients? You think it’s because they are good people? Or do you think it’s because they care about protecting $711 billion worth of profits?” Borges said.
Greedy drug companies have rigged the system to charge the highest prices possible and avoid negotiations, Borges said, and they threaten to raise drug prices to punish Ohio if voters try to get a better deal on medications through this ballot issue.
But Borges “continues to trumpet this ridiculous and preposterous idea that Issue 2 is going to save the state $400 million” when the state budget director concluded Issue 2 won’t lead to savings, Butland said.
Medicaid accounts for most of the state’s spending on medications, but it is an insurance program that pays pharmacies for prescription drugs, said John McCarthy, former Ohio Medicaid director who is a representative of the Vote No campaign.
Issue 2 does not force drug companies to sell those prescriptions to pharmacists at the lowest VA price — it says the state can’t pay more than the VA price, McCarthy said.
The state may not be able to purchase prescriptions at the VA prices, which would lead to less coverage for Medicaid recipients, opponents say.