Photo by Amanda Mills/CDC.
Photo by Amanda Mills/CDC.

A battle over the cost of prescription drugs will be fought at the ballot box Tuesday, as California voters decide on a measure that backers contend will control the price of medication for millions of residents, but that opponents insist will do the opposite.

Proposition 61 would prohibit state agencies from buying any prescription drugs for a price above the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which receives a federally mandated discount of 20-24 percent. Backers say the proposal would slash the price of medication for residents who receive drug coverage through various state agencies, including low-income residents on Medi-Cal.

The measure would apply to any program in which a state agency ultimately pays for the medication, although Medi-Cal’s managed care programs, which cover 75 percent of Medi-Cal enrollees, would be exempted.

Backers — including former Democratic presidential hopeful and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — contend the measure will prevent price-gouging by drug companies.

“The drug companies put profits over people, returns for stockholders over cures for patients,” according to a ballot argument by supporters including officials from AARP and the California Nurses Association. “What good are miraculous, life-saving medications if they’re priced so high patients can’t afford them — and thousands are dying as a result.”

Opponents, however, say the proposition will only affect the drug prices of 12 percent of California residents, and could actually wind up raising medication costs for millions more residents.

“Prop. 61 would result in the elimination of drug discounts the state currently receives — increasing state prescription drug costs by tens of millions annually,” opponents contend. “The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst says the measure could raise state spending on many prescription drugs.”

Opponents also claim the measure could result in the elimination of the discounts veterans receive for medications, forcing veterans to pay more.

Supporters of the proposition counter that arguments are scare tactics being used by the pharmaceutical industry, saying the contention that veterans would pay more for medications is an “empty threat,” since the drug discounts for the VA are required under federal law.

— City News Service

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