California Prescription Drug Measure Has Big, Early Lead

A closely watched California prescription drug-pricing initiative is leading 3-1 with likely voters, but a third of those surveyed remain undecided, according to a new statewide Field-IGS Poll.

The survey shows 50 percent of likely voters are inclined to vote yes on Proposition 61, while 16 percent say they’re likely to vote no. Thirty-four percent aren’t taking either side.

“This proposition is starting out way, way ahead,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “Californians are initially supportive of the intention of the initiative, which is to take some kind of action against rising prescription drug prices.”

The California Drug Price Relief Act would require the state to pay no more for prescription drugs than the Department of Veterans Affairs pays for the same medication. The federal agency negotiates drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, paying on average one-quarter less for drugs than other government agencies.

The poll shows support for Proposition 61 is broad-based. Subgroups of likely voters most in favor include Democrats, liberals, voters in the nine-county Bay Area and Los Angeles County, college graduates, those under age 30 and Latinos.

Proponents say the measure would save California taxpayers about $5.7 billion over 10 years. But DiCamillo points to cautionary words in Proposition 61’s official ballot summary that say the amount of potential savings is unknown, in part because drug companies may decide to hike prices to make up for the lost discounts if the measure becomes law.

And that, he said, may be a reason such a large number of voters are still undecided about the measure. “It gives voters some pause,” DiCamillo said. “They want more information.”

“An overwhelming majority of Californians want lower drug prices, and they know that pegging this to a federal agency that actually negotiates price is a good thing,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the initiative’s primary sponsor and the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the U.S.

“After $35 million spent (so far by opponents) on lying ads … it’s gotten them 16 percent of the vote,” Weinstein said of the David-and-Goliath battle that has seen Big Pharma spend at least $86 million to defeat the measure. In contrast, the proponents have raised at least $14 million.

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