High drug costs are a national issue, not just an Ohio one.
But voters statewide will get to weigh in on the Ohio Drug Relief Act, Issue 2, on Nov. 7. The run-up to the election, and the outcome, will be closely watched throughout the country.
Issue 2, if approved, would create a new law requiring state agencies in Ohio to not pay more for prescription drugs than the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. It also would require state payment of attorney fees and expenses to specific individuals for defense of the law.
The issue, which was brought about through an initiative petition signed by nearly 200,000 Ohioans, pits a California health care CEO against Big Pharma in a state which would become the first to directly take on the drug price problem if the issue is approved.
Voters in California turned down a similar ballot request last year, and some believe if Ohio passes Issue 2, other states will follow suit to force drug companies to negotiate drug prices more fairly.
The problem, though, may not be solved by Issue 2.
Since the law would only apply to drug purchases by state government agencies and entities, and not apply to those who have private or employer-based insurance or Medicare, only one-third of Ohioans stand to benefit from the law.
It would also only apply to the kinds of drugs Veterans Affairs purchases for vets, leaving pricing intact for hundreds of other medications.
And while proponents claim Ohio would realize savings of at least $400 million annually if Issue 2 passes, analysis by the state budget director has discounted that figure, saying there are too many unknowns to estimate actual savings and suggesting costs could even increase if drug companies “shift costs.”
Another potential problem is that legal fees of four individual sponsors would become the responsibility of Ohio taxpayers if the law is challenged in court. That cost also is unknown, of course, but could be considerable if drug companies file suit.
The ballot language and the proposed law simply leave too much open to interpretation.
The issue is clouded by the fact that up to $100 million will be spent by the two sides, the majority of it by the same drug companies who now control drug prices.
We’re sympathetic to those struggling with the high costs of health care and medicine, and troubled by reports that the U.S. often pays more for medications than other countries, even though most meds used by Americans were developed here.
But it’s questionable if Issue 2 would solve or exacerbate the problem.
If forced to negotiate with state agencies, drug companies could merely shift price costs to others, meaning many Ohioans could see higher, not lower, drug costs.
It would be a challenge, considering the lobbying power of Big Pharma, but Ohioans would do better to demand their state and federal lawmakers do more to rein in high drug prices, and hold their representatives accountable if they fail to act.
Out-of-control drug costs should be part of a reform of the nation’s health care system, not done piecemeal, state-by-state. President Trump suggested a federal effort is needed to address rising drug prices earlier this week. We hope that’s more than hot air.
Certainly, Issue 2 is getting voters’ attention in Ohio, as evidenced by the interest in a community forum in Findlay on Monday. But there’s not enough independent evidence that it would do more good than harm.
Everyone wants lower drug prices, but Ohioans deserve more than a promise that relief may or may not come.
We recommend a “no” vote on Issue 2.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An insert with the full text, ballot language and explanations and/or arguments of State Issue 1 and State Issue 2 are included in today’s Courier.