Ohio's prescription ballot issue: Get your questions answered

CINCINNATI - No one wants to buy overpriced prescription drugs.

Whether Ohio can keep that from happening for some Buckeyes is at the heart of the debate mounting over Issue 2, the prescription drug price ballot proposal that voters will decide on during the Nov. 7 election.

Known as the Drug Price Relief Act, the proposal’s supporters say it would lower drug costs for as many as 4 million Ohioans by prohibiting the state from buying prescriptions at prices higher than those paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which negotiates big discounts.

While that may sound simple, drug pricing “is actually very complicated and confusing,” said Jeff J. Guo, professor of Pharmacy Practice & Administrative Sciences at University of Cincinnati’s James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy.

“Drug pricing in the U.S. is done very much in secret,” he said, noting that negotiated rebates and private deals with pharmaceutical firms and drug manufacturers heavily influence drug prices.  “It’s a big unknown what the actual acquisition costs because there is very limited data that’s available to the public.” 

GET YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED: Join us for at WCPO's Facebook page for a live chat at 1:30 p.m. Thursday to ask your Issue 2 questions. 

Compounding the issue for Ohio voters is an endless stream of campaign commercials for and against the ballot measure -- each with its own set of numbers and claims.

In a recent survey that three Ohio television stations commissioned, six out 10 respondents said they didn't know much about Issue 2. 

With the election on Nov. 7, here’s a list of commonly asked questions and resources for voters weighing the issue. 

What's being proposed?

Issue 2 would require the state and its agencies, including the Ohio Department of Medicaid, to pay the same or lower prices for prescription drugs as the VA. The VA negotiates drug prices with companies and typically pays 20  to 24 percent less than other agencies.

A point of controversy for some:
The measure also would allow its sponsors to defend the law should legal battles pop up, at Ohio taxpayers' expense. Under the proposal, the state would be required to cover "reasonable legal expenses” for the sponsors. Opponents say the term “reasonable” could be very loosely defined  -- leaving Ohio taxpayers on the hook for costly court fees if a legal battle ensues. The measure would also require the sponsors to pay $10,000 to the state if a court rules the law unenforceable.

You can read the approved ballot language here.

Who would be impacted?

Supporters say the drug price cap would impact about 4 million Ohioans, which includes roughly 164,000 children. Savings to taxpayers is estimated between $164 million and $536 million each year. 

However, Ohio’s Department of Medicaid has not conducted any financial analysis of the potential impact. A spokeswoman for the department said there are no plans to release an analysis.

Who supports this?

Leading the Yes On Issue 2 effort is the Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices campaign. It’s nearly 100 percent funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has contributed more than $6.2 million to promote the measure.

Beyond that, these officials and organizations are among those that have publicly endorsed their support for the effort: 

  • Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley
  • Cincinnati Mayoral candidate Yvette Simpson
  • U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Ohio Academy of Family Physicians

Who is opposed?

Heading up the No on Issue 2 effort is the Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Initiative. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, also known as PhRMA, and one of it’s affiliates have fully funded the more than $16.2 million raised to defeat the measure.

According to the campaign, more than 60 Ohio organizations opposed the effort, including these groups:

    •    Ohio State Medical Association
    •    Ohio Hospital Association
    •    Ohio Osteopathic Association
    •    American Academy of Pediatrics, Ohio Chapter
    •    American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Ohio
    •    Ohio Pharmacists Association
    •    Ohio Foot and Ankle Medical Association
    •    Ohio Hematology Oncology Society
    •    Ohio Ophthalmological Society
    •    Ohio Psychiatric Physicians Association
    •    Equitas Health
    •    Ohio Society for Health System Pharmacists

Has any other state done this?

Last year, a similar effort was proposed in California. Known as proposition 61, the measure was defeated, 53 percent to 47 percent. PhRMA contributed nearly $110 million to defeat the proposition, while the AIDS Healthcare Foundation spent about $19 million supporting it.

Where can I learn more?

Have questions about Issue 2 not addressed here? Email reporter Lisa Bernard-Kuhn at lisa.bernard-kuhn@wcpo.com or contact her via Twitter @bernardkuhn. We’ll research your questions and publish the answers as we get closer to the election.

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