Proposition 61: 2016

Proposition 61

State Prescription Drug Purchases. Pricing Standards.

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The Measure:

Measure Identification

Measure ID: Proposition 61
Measure Name: State Prescription Drug Purchases. Pricing Standards.
Type of Ballot Measure: Initiative Statute
Election: 2016 General


The Question:

Should state agencies generally be prohibited from paying more for any prescription drug than the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) pays for the same drug?

The Situation:

The state purchases prescription drugs under various programs covering current and retired state employees, prison inmates and Medi-Cal enrollees. The state (1) purchases some drugs directly from manufacturers, or (2) reimburses entities implementing state programs. Significant drug purchasers typically negotiate and receive price discounts.

The VA provides health care to approximately nine million veterans nationwide, including prescription drugs. It is subject to federal upper limits on the prices it pays for drugs, and often negotiates additional discounts, generally achieving lower prices.

The VA maintains a public database that lists the prices it pays for most drugs. However, the database may not display the lowest prices paid for some of the drugs because of confidentiality clauses in some purchase agreements.

The Proposal:

Prop. 61 would generally prohibit state agencies from paying more for a prescription drug than the lowest price paid by the VA for the same drug after all discounts are factored in. This would apply whether the state purchases directly, or indirectly through reimbursements.

The state’s Medi-Cal program offers comprehensive health coverage to the state’s low-income residents. Prop. 61 would apply to its fee-for-service program, which serves approximately 25 percent of Medi-Cal enrollees, but not to its managed care system, which serves the remaining 75 percent.

Prop. 61 would require the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to verify that state agencies are paying the same or less than the lowest price paid by the VA on a drug-by-drug basis.

Fiscal Effect:

There is the potential for the state to realize drug cost reductions, but there are major uncertainties about the amount of savings.

The VA’s database does not always identify the lowest prices it pays, and it may not be possible to obtain this information. Then DHCS would be unable to assess the lowest price paid by the VA for one or more drugs.

Courts sometimes allow state agencies to implement laws to the degree that is practicable, such as by allowing the state to pay for drugs at a price not exceeding the lowest known VA price, but that is not certain.

There are at least two possible manufacturer responses to Prop. 61:

  • Drug manufacturers might try to raise the VA’s drug prices.
  • Drug manufacturers could decline to offer California some drugs purchased by the VA.

Therefore, the amount of any savings under Prop. 61 could range from relatively little effect to significant annual savings. 

A YES Vote Means:

State agencies would generally be prohibited from paying more for any prescription drug than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the same drug.

A NO Vote Means:

State agencies would continue to be able to negotiate the prices of, and pay for, prescription drugs without reference to the prices paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Supporters Say:

  • Skyrocketing prescription prices are a matter of life and death. Prop. 61 will end the price gouging.                                      
  • Prop. 61 empowers the state to negotiate the same or better deals for taxpayers as are paid by the VA.

Opponents Say:

  • Prop. 61 only covers an arbitrary group of patients in certain government programs; more than 88 percent of Californians are excluded.           
  • Prop. 61 would result in the elimination of drug discounts the state currently receives, increasing state prescription costs instead of reducing them.         

Official Support:

Yes on Prop. 61, Californians for Lower Drug Prices:

Major Financial Contributions in support of Prop 61 as of September 15, 2016, include:

  • AIDS Healthcare Foundation ($9,405,716)
  • California Nurses Association ($50,000)

Official Opposition:

No on Prop. 61—Californians Against the Deceptive Rx Proposition:

Major Financial Contributions to oppose Prop 61 as of September 15, 2016, include:

  • Johnson & Johnson ($7,212,000)
  • Merck ($7,212,000)
  • Pfizer ($7,212,000)
  • Amgen ($5,617,000)
  • AbbVie ($5,203,000)

Financial contributions to ballot measures change frequently; for up-to-date campaign contribution information, please check Cal Access.

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