Ohio lawmaker takes another crack at lowering drug prices

Prescription medications

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – Voters were very clear in November, they wanted nothing to do with Issue 2, defeating it by a nearly 4:1 margin.

The ballot measure would have changed the state constitution and forced the state to seek the lowest prices for prescription drugs, using the 24% discount the Department of Veterans Affairs gets from drug companies as a starting point.

There was a massive fight over whether Ohioans should support or oppose the bill. Tens of millions of dollars were spent by drug companies and a California executive waging war over the airways with commercials that only confused the matter for voters.

On top of that,  Issue 2 had its own problems. It had a provision that would have made the state pay the legal fees for several individuals connected to the California executive that was paying for the Yes on 2 campaign if they had to go to court to force the state to follow the initiative.

This would have meant the state would be paying double; once to the Attorney General for defending the state and once to the individuals opposing it.

Another drawback of Issue 2 was that it was only aimed at people getting their medications through state programs, such as Medicaid.

One common argument was that companies would raise the cost of the same drugs for everyone else to offset the discount if Issue 2 passed, effectively wiping out any savings.

On Election Day voters opposed the ballot measure with a 79% to 21% vote; some voters were so confused by who to believe they simply voted no out of an abundance of caution.

Thursday, State Senator Charleta Tavares announced a plan to reintroduce the intent of Issue 2 as a bill in the state legislature. There are some key differences, however. First, Tavares says the bill will affect everyone; not just people who get their drugs from state programs. She says if you have insurance, her bill will apply to you.

Second, she says the process will be transparent as state legislators will be discussing and shaping the bill in public, free of the special interests on both sides muddying the waters with confusing commercials.

Finally, there will be no money for outside parties seeking payment for litigation. If the bill is challenged by someone the state will be paying the Attorney General to defend it, and that is that.

Another side effect of what Tavares is trying to do keeps the measure in the revised code as opposed to changing the state constitution. This way, future legislators can make changes to the bill as necessary and not have to go back to the voters every time they want to make an adjustment.

There are still some questions about her bill, however. Tavares admits there is currently nothing in her bill that will prevent drug companies from simply raising the cost of their drugs to cover the discount that is sought. And she says there is nothing explicitly written into the bill that would make all insurers more transparent with what they paying for a drug. Tavares says transparency would have to be there on some level in order to show they are getting at least the 24% discount the VA gets.

And that brings us to the discount the VA gets itself. Years ago, the Federal Government negotiated this discount as a way to provide the men and women of our military an added benefit that other citizens who had not served did not have access to. Currently, Ohio’s Department of Medicaid is getting a 23.5% discount, just under what the veterans receive.

Tavares says she wants veterans to get the best healthcare outcomes because they deserve them but not at the expense of the health of their daughters, sons, aunts, and uncles who may not have served.

According to Tavares, there are other things we can do, and are doing, to help veterans in Ohio, and that lowering the prescription drug prices is what is fair for all Ohioans.

She hopes to get wide support for her effort both here in the state legislature, and that it sparks a discussion in other legislatures across the country.

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