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Husted To Decide Soon On Drug Price Control Ballot Issue

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Ohio's Republican Secretary of State may soon render a controversial decision on a proposal to cap the price the state pays for drugs for Medicaid, prisons and other programs. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

It sounds like a simple proposal.
“That Ohio would not pay any more than the Veterans’ Administration for drugs.”
That’s Michael Weinstein, President of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, based in
California. It's formed a group called Ohioans for Fair Drug Prices to push a law
that would require the state of Ohio to pay no more for drugs than the federal US
Department of Veterans Affairs does. It would cover drugs bought for Medicaid, for
prisons, for mental health programs, and for state-run facilities. Weinstein says
the VA pays 20-24% less for drugs than the state does, so this could save billions.
The proposal, called the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act, is nowhere close to being
enacted, but it’s already gotten the attention of the pharmaceutical industry.
“Our biggest issue with this is while the written language seems simple, it’s a very
complex measure, and it could really have some significant adverse consequences for
a lot of Ohioans.”
That’s Priscilla VanderVeer who speaks for the Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers of America or PhRMA, the chief lobbying group for the industry. The
group disputes the potential savings of the proposal, and suggests that such a
proposal could hurt customers by limiting access to drugs.  Weinstein's group needed
91,000 signatures to start action on the proposal. Ohioans for Fair Drug Prices
turned in 119,000 signatures to  Secretary of State Jon Husted to review in
December.  VanderVeer says PhRMA asked Husted for an additional review of those
signatures.
“As we go through the process, we’re closely monitoring the process that state and
local election officials are performing to ensure that the petitioners have properly
followed Ohio laws particularly as they pertain to gathering and filing signatures
and petitions.”
But that’s not how Weinstein views it. Weinstein says more than 98% of the
signatures came back valid, so he says Husted should have turned the proposal over
to lawmakers to consider a month ago. But he says the second review was launched
because the drug makers don’t want this issue.
“The people of Ohio need to know that he’s doing the bidding of the pharmaceutical
industry and he’s not fulfilling his office. He is violating his constitutional
mandate. He’s running out the clock so we won’t be on the November ballot.”
If lawmakers don’t act on the plan, Ohioans for Fair Drug Prices has four months to
gather more signatures to put it before voters this fall.  Husted’s spokesman Joshua
Eck had no numbers on how many signatures were valid, but he said the issue was
never certified, so there’s no reason to turn it over to lawmakers. Eck says it’s
not unusual for complaints to be filed about petitions and signatures, especially
when those gathering the signatures are paid, as they were in this case. And Eck
says Husted has never asked for a second review of signatures, but did this time
because he’s concerned about that complaint.
“The complaint was that some of the petitions had been mishandled and so the
Secretary, in doing due diligence, asked the county boards of elections to do a
second pass through of the petitions with that complaint in mind just to check
whether or not the complaint had any validity.”
The data on the signatures from the boards of elections was due Friday, so a
decision on whether the issue goes forward or not is likely soon. Weinstein’s group
has sued Husted in state and federal court, asking for a quick review of the cases.
A similar proposal to cap drug prices is pending in California, and Weinstein says
the pharmaceutical industry has spent $38 million against it so far, and could spend
up to $100 million. VanderVeer with PhRMA wouldn’t confirm or project any spending
figures if the issue does go forward in Ohio.

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