Trying to Lower Drug Prices
Drug companies are expected to pour $100 million into an effort to squash the referendum in what will be a test of the industry’s strength at a time of growing consumer backlash against drug prices.
The initiative would require the state to pay no more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — one of the few federal agencies allowed to negotiate drug prices.
From the industry’s perspective, California could set a dangerous precedent.
Besides having an economy the size of many small countries, the liberal bastion is often a laboratory for new ideas that take root and then spread east.
That’s even more likely given that the presidential front-runners are pushing the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare.
“This is the crack in the door” on drug pricing, said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a California nonprofit devoted to consumer protection issues.
“If any Democrat in America wants bulk purchasing in Medicare, it will start with bulk purchasing for the most liberal state government in America.”
Which is precisely the intention of the initiative’s sponsor, Michael Weinstein, CEO of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
“If we win, we hope it will start a national prairie fire,” he said.
Weinstein pursued the ballot measure after years of in-your-face activism on AIDS and after watching the California state legislature fail to do anything about drug prices — a big concern to people with HIV/AIDS who may be taking costly drugs for the rest of their lives.
Drug companies have easily trounced such opponents in the past, but the California battle comes at a particularly perilous moment.
Public anger at drug prices is at an all-time high, driven by headlines about executives who un-apologetically jacked up prices 5,000 percent.
That is happening against the backdrop of a campaign cycle in which Americans are bucking the establishment in favor of insurgent candidates like Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Bernie Sanders.