Editorial: Pharma industry needs scrutiny but Issue 2 is not the right fix

We recommend a 'no' vote
Posted at 6:30 AM, Oct 18, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Sure, everyone thinks the costs of prescription drugs are too high.

But would Issue 2, now on the ballot in Ohio, be the fix that its backers claim it is?

We don’t think so.

Here’s why:

  • It might actually raise prices. Issue 2 would apply only to Ohio government purchasers of prescription drugs, mainly Medicaid. There's a legitimate question of whether it would actually raise prices for the 7 million Ohioans covered by private insurance, if the drug companies shift costs to the privately insured, which seems likely. And it just controls what the state could pay. What if the drug companies just refuse to sell the drugs at those prices?
  • It’ll wind up in court. It’s probable that Issue 2 would be challenged in court if it passed. In fact, its backers anticipated that. They added ballot language that would require taxpayers to “pay reasonable attorney’s fees and other expenses” for them if the matter faced legal challenges.
  • What’s the benefit? A report released Oct. 11 by Ohio’s budget director said the initiative might save state government purchasers some money, but it was impossible to predict how much. It also predicted that drug companies would seek to make up for any lost revenue in other ways.
  • Legislators should be involved. We agree that prescription drug prices are, in general, too high. But any attempt to do something about it should be done legislatively, not through a ballot initiative like this. Legislative action typically allows plenty of opportunity for information, hearings and debate. Most people probably first heard of Issue 2 through the confusing campaign commercials that have been running for months. That’s no way to decide a complex issue like this.
  • Even California said no. A near-identical initiative, proposed by the same groups as in Ohio, failed in California in November, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Issue 2 is sponsored by the Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices campaign. It’s nearly 100 percent funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a not-for-profit advocacy group based in Los Angeles.

Its endorsers include the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Council Member Yvette Simpson, who is running for mayor.

The opposition is led by a group called Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Initiative. It’s largely funded by the pharmaceutical industry, through the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

It’s opposed by the chief doctor, hospital and pharmacist groups in Ohio -- the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Pharmacists Association, as well as dozens of other organizations.

Drug pricing is a complicated puzzle influenced by insurance companies, employers, contracts and competition.

Does it need more scrutiny and transparency? Yes.

But a simplistic effort like Issue 2 is not the way to go about it.

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