Rain dance for a better Issue 2?

I stay out of political talks, not because I have no opinion. The real problem: being a woman of a certain age, I know I’m always right.

The few privy to my sparkles of wisdom – by “few” I mean Mark, my husband – said this early in our marriage, “We’re like a pair of old shoes. You’re always right. I’m what’s left.” I chuckled, submitted “the joke” to Reader’s Digest and was promptly rejected.

Starting weeks ago, whenever I put on my reading glasses, Issue 2 popped out. Except during election years, I mused, who’s ever cared this much what Ohio thinks?

I asked around, “What’s ‘The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act’ – or Issue 2?” and got two answers: “I’m not sure,” or “it’s confusing.”

Then I found out the pharmaceutical industry is behind the aggressive negative campaign. Last year, it spent $109 million (out-funding proponents of the ballot 10 to one) and struck down an almost-identical measure in California. It was the most expensive ballot battle of 2016.   

The more interesting question fast becomes: Who just kicked the hornets’ nest?

The soul of Issue 2 is good: the state of Ohio should not pay more for prescription drugs than the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

The VA enjoys steep discounts on prescription drugs because it’s one of only two federal programs (the Department of Defense being the other) allowed to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that they pay roughly half of what retail pharmacies pay.

You may not believe this, but in 2003, when Congress created Medicare Part D, it forbade Medicare, a federal program, from directly negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies.

But Medicaid, funded by both federal and state governments, may negotiate through the states.

In Ohio, we might save $160 million to $560 million. I think the value will be on the lower end because Medicaid already receives rebates and discounts. The savings, while significant for our state, is pocket change for the drug industry. The top 10 money-makers shell out billions of dollars each year just on marketing alone.

So why is pharma so nervous, threatening lawsuits and price hikes?

Basically, Issue 2 is doing the work of Congress – made impotent by special interest groups.

David Blumenthal, MD, co-author of “Drug Price Control: How Some Government Programs Do It,” told me that “the prospect of a [law]suit is a fatal flaw in policy initiative. ... Just because they sue doesn’t mean they will win. ... Congress has few options to lower drug prices, but no immediate plan to act on. Drug affordability continues to decline.”

I’m hanging onto the hope that whatever we might (or might not) suffer, we pave the way for more states to follow. Reba McEntire put it simply, “To succeed … you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.” 

What we can’t afford doing is a rain dance for a better bill: one that benefits “more people” or contains less legal mumbo-jumbo.

Issue 2 doesn’t have to be perfectly right to be right.

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Volume 9, Issue 21, Posted 12:05 PM, 10.31.2017