Proposition 61 — Sorting Through the Noise

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SACRAMENTO -- With all the political noise, it’s tempting to tune out.

However, when it comes to the price of prescription drugs, some people can’t afford to ignore the cost of making the wrong choice on Proposition 61.

“I am very dependent, I have to watch very much where pharmaceutical costs continue to escalate,” said Medicare recipient Jeffrey Tardaguila.

Though neither would be directly affected by the ballot measure, Jeffrey Tardagulia and Ginger Muckelroy have done their homework on Proposition  61.

“Some people can’t buy food sometimes because they have to buy prescriptions,” Muckelroy said.

It prohibits California from paying more than the Department of Veterans Affairs pays for prescription drugs.

“It’s a message that Californians can send to pharma that they’re tired of price gouging, and on top of that, the state can see savings of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which benefits at tax payers," said “Yes on 61” spokesperson Roger Salazar.

“The problem is the devil in the details, and independent experts haven’t quite come to that same conclusion," said Kathy Fairbanks of the “No on 61” campaign.

Proposition 61 applies to people whose prescription drugs are directly paid for by the state such as state employees, prison inmates and medical recipients, an estimated 12 percent of Californians. It would not apply to people with private insurance, people who get their insurance through their non-state employers or people on Medicare.

Salazar says it’s a first step.

“Our goal ultimately is that’s going to lead to downward price pressure for everybody," said Salazar.

“The concern is this is like a balloon, you squeeze one side and the costs go up for the other side,” said Fairbanks.

The “No on 61” campaign says Proposition 61 will not necessarily work as expected and could have a negative effect on prices.

“The 200 groups that oppose Proposition 61 are worried about that exact scenario, that they will be negatively impacted through high prices or decreased access to medicines,” said Fairbanks.

The “Yes on 61” campaign says that’s more of a veiled threat than a prediction.

“They’re basically saying if the voters of California have the audacity to vote of this, we are going to raise your drug prices," said Salazar.

California’s nonpartisan Legislative Affairs Office came to a similar conclusion.

In evaluating Prop 61 they wrote in part, “…as discussed above, if adopted, the measure could generate annual state savings. However, the amount of any savings is highly uncertain as it would depend on (1) how the measure’s implementation challenges are addressed and (2) the uncertain market responses of drug manufacturers to the measure. As a result, the fiscal impact of this measure on the state is unknown. It could range from relatively little effect to significant annual savings. For example, if the measure lowered total state prescription drug spending by even a few percent, it would result in state savings in the high tens of millions of dollars annually."

The “No on Prop 61” campaign is funded largely by the pharmaceutical industry and has raised about $109 million. That's six times more than the “Yes on prop 61” campaign, which is supported largely by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the California Nurses Association. That group has raised $16 million.