Source: Mike Roth

Measure Says State Cannot Pay More for Drugs than

the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs

SACRAMENTO – The campaign to pass a drug-price initiative, the California Drug Price Relief Act, that will appear on next November’s ballot today released survey data showing overwhelming public support for the measure, with 76 percent of respondents saying they would vote for it. After being read arguments both for and against the measure, fully 81 percent supported it.

“These are some of the highest levels of support you will ever find for an initiative in California,” said Mike Roth, spokesperson for the measure’s backers, including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “People are fed up with the greed and price-gouging of the big pharmaceutical companies, and they expect their state government to do something about it.”

Surveys have increasingly found that exorbitant prices for prescription drugs is a top concern of Americans. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation published in June showed that nearly threequarters (73 percent) of the public says drug costs are unreasonable, and 76 percent blame it on pharmaceutical companies setting the prices too high – with 77 percent citing drug company profits as the main reason.

Supporters of the measure slated to appear in front of voters next year have already submitted many more voter signatures than necessary in order to qualify for the ballot. The measure would prohibit the state, in any case where state taxpayers are the ultimate payer, from paying more for any prescription drug than is paid for that same drug by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Unlike some entities of the federal government – Medicare, for example – the Department of Veterans Affairs is empowered by law to use its bargaining power to negotiate the prices of drugs used in the agency’s provision of health-care services to veterans. As a result, data show that the department pays on average 20-24 percent less for drugs than other government agencies.

Nationally, prescription drug spending increased more than 800 percent between 1990 and 2013 – making it one of the fastest-growing segments of health-care spending. The cost of certain specialty medications, such as those used to treat cancer, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS are rising even faster than prices for other types of medication.

The latest, and perhaps most outrageous, example of drug-price increases occurred in September when Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of a 62-year-old drug called Daraprim, typically used by pregnant women and AIDS patients, from $13.50 per pill to a stunning $750 per pill overnight – a 5,000 percent increase.

Roth said the survey demonstrated deep public resentment toward the drug companies, with 85 percent of respondents saying they would be more likely to vote for the measure if they knew the pharmaceutical industry was campaigning to defeat it by spending millions of dollars. “People are smart enough to know that the huge run-up in the price of prescription drugs is just the drug companies arbitrarily raising prices to benefit their bottom line,” Roth said. “They put healthy profits over people’s health, and this initiative will start redressing the imbalance between the power of Big Pharma and the ability of people to do something about it.”

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