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Pharmaceutical Industry Scores Another Election Victory

A year after California voters rejected what would have been a first-of-its-kind state law to regulate drug prices, Ohioans did the same.

prescription drug pills covering cash
This story is part of our 2017 elections coverage.

The most expensive ballot measure in Ohio's history was resoundingly rejected by voters on Tuesday, handing a victory to the pharmaceutical industry that spent big money to defeat it.

The measure -- which would have been a first of its kind in the nation -- would have let state health agencies pay the same for prescription drugs as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which gets a 24 percent discount off drug manufacturers' prices.

A similar measure appeared on the ballot last year in California, where the drug companies also put up a multimillion-dollar defense. It paid off: The measure lost, four percentage points shy of passage.

The pharmaceutical industry won even bigger in Ohio. With 27 percent of precincts reporting, almost 80 percent voted against it.

With at least $58 million in contributions, the opposition in Ohio -- which included the drug companies -- had more than three times the money on hand as the campaign in support of the legislation, which only raised roughly $16 million.

If passed, proponents of the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act said it would have saved the state $400 million a year. But former Ohio Budget Director Greg Browning, who opposed the measure, analyzed the bill and said that the $400 million in savings were grossly oversold because states typically get discounts on drugs anyway.

“They have made this calculation without taking into consideration the profound fact that these Ohio prescription drug expenditures, which involve 3 million Ohio Medicaid recipients and about 1 million other impacted citizens, already reflect mandatory and negotiated discounts that already rival drug prices paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Browning wrote in an issue brief.

But supporters said the VA program has been successful and should be replicated across the country in order to help keep companies in check in the long run.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs has successfully used this program for years since it was first established by President George H. W. Bush and Congress in 1992," Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator, wrote in the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Don’t be fooled when pharmaceutical companies argue that their pricing strategy is simply based on supply and demand."

This story is part of our 2017 elections coverage.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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