Campaigning begins in Ohio drug price initiative

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Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices wants to “stop drug company greed” by guaranteeing drug purchases by the state are lowered.

But officials with the initiative's chief opponent say the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act initiative is "a deceptive and vaguely worded ballot issue" that won't accomplish what it sets out to do. California voters rejected a similar initiative in November 2016.

Ohioans are now seeing the start of advertising campaigns surrounding the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act, which will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

RELATED: 3 reasons prescription drugs cost so much

The citizen-initiated issue would mandate drug companies sell at the same price it does the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and prohibit state agencies, such as the Ohio Bureau of Prisons or Ohio Department of Medicaid, from negotiating any price that’s not at least a 20 percent to 24 percent discount.

“The reality of drug prices coming down through a legislative process is just probably not realistic with the power and the money the drug industry spends,” said Rick Taylor, a California-based consultant with Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices. “What we’re saying here, let’s have the citizens of Ohio have a say.”

But Dale Butland, with Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue group, says the measure impacts less than 4 million people, three-fourths of whom receive Medicaid coverage and prescription medications at a 23 percent discount.

“Most of the people in the state, 7 million people, don’t get their drugs through a state program; they get it through private insurance,” Butland said. “Those people are left out of this.”

And state-negotiated prices could be passed onto the rest of Ohio, he said.

A 74-page study produced by former Ohio Medicaid officials, which was funded by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, surmised it’s not possible to determine how much the VA is really paying for prescription medication.

Butland said the added discount the VA receives is “proprietary” and likely would be eliminated if the proposed initiative passes.

MORE: Butler County Democrats support Ohio Drug Price Relief Act

Officials with the Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Tax Prices confirmed that Ohioans won’t see an immediate impact, but Taylor said taxpayers will see an overall savings between $400 million to $700 million — and “this could potentially take care of” a sizable chunk of the governor’s projected $800 million budget deficit.

Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices will make its case to the voting public with familiar stories of Ohioans.

“I think that everyone knows a pharmaceutical horror story. Everyone knows something that someone needs or has been prescribed that they can’t afford, or they can’t afford an insurance policy that could bring that drug to them,” said David Little, a consultant with Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices. “Being alive or dead shouldn’t depend on your financial position.”

The campaign is expected to be costly, especially since a record $128 million was spent in the California campaign. Television commercials for and against the issue launched last month.

READ IT: Read the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act online now

Taylor said there were some lessons learned from the failure of the California campaign that can be applied to the Ohio campaign, including challenging the best they can the television commercials. They were outspent about $6-$7 to $1 in California, and expect that same margin for the Ohio campaign.

“I think the biggest lesson is that don’t ever expect the drug industry to spend limitless money,” said Taylor. “That’s one thing. I think the lesson we took away on the campaign side, we have to run a much different campaign that we can’t let them get out there and frame the issue. We have to get out there right away and not let them dictate the message.”

Another lesson is developing a solid “ground game,” which Taylor said “that did not happen in California.”

“We did not have any grassroots effort at all. We did not have any ground presence. This campaign will have a ground presence,” he said.

If this initiative passes, proponents believe it will give an advantage money can’t buy to other states considering the bill, which Taylor said includes South Dakota and a few Northwestern states in 2018.

“If citizens can start to have a voice in pricing of pharmaceuticals, you can imagine that would spread like wild fire,” he said.

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