Drug Price-Control Measure Qualifies For Fall 2016 Ballot

A newly qualified November 2016 ballot measure would impose price controls on state drug purchases, potentially setting up an expensive battle with the pharmaceutical industry.

The California secretary of state’s office announced Thursday evening that proponents of the California Drug Price Relief Act had turned in more than enough valid voter signatures to make next fall’s ballot, based on a random sample of the nearly 543,000 signatures proponents submitted this summer.

The measure would tie state drug purchases to prices paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Proponents say that would mean big reductions in what the state spends to buy drugs for its prison system and other programs.

Supporters have noted the profits of the pharmaceutical industry and, signaling a potential campaign theme, highlighted this week’s arrest of pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli on securities fraud charges.

“This is the most comprehensive drug price reduction initiative that has gone before voters in more than a decade,” Mike Roth, a spokesman for Californians for Lower Drug Prices, said in a statement Friday. “At a time when Pharma greed is in the headlines daily, voters know Pharma isn’t looking out for their pocketbooks.”

Industry opponents of the initiative call it misleading and flawed. Describing the measure as the “California state government drug purchasing initiative,” critics likely will try to tap into voter suspicion of government-run healthcare.

“It will increase the prices of prescription drugs sold to veterans and many California consumers and will reduce the number of drug choices available to Californians all while costing taxpayers millions more in state bureaucracy and lawsuits because it will be virtually impossible to implement,” Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for opponents’ campaign, said in a statement.

The pharmaceutical industry starts with an enormous financial advantage. PhRMA’s California campaign committee has reported raising almost $38 million from nearly 30 drug makers since September, with Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, Inc. giving about $6 million apiece.

Proponents’ campaign committee had $69,000 on hand as of Sept. 30 and has raised $125,000 since then.

The measure’s sponsor, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, can pull the initiative off the ballot through June 30, 2016. That creates the possibility of a deal in the Legislature that prevents a ballot fight.

The drug-pricing measure is the second November 2016 initiative pushed by the Los Angeles-based healthcare foundation. Last month, election officials cleared a measure requiring adult-film actors to wear condoms.