California's price-setting proposal draws fire from patient advocates

If California voters decide to implement a first-in-the-nation plan for price controls on prescription drugs, many patients might not be able to get the treatments they need.

A measure that will appear on the state’s ballot in November will ask Californians if they want to impose new regulations aimed at curbing high drug prices. The new rules would ban some government-run health insurance programs from buying drugs at higher prices than those paid by the federal government.

Opposition to the idea is growing, and now includes groups representing patients who depend on prescription drugs for life-saving treatments.  Patients should be worried that approval of the price-setting initiative would result in shortages and further complications, they warn.

Hollaine Hopkins, executive director of the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, says the proposal is unworkable.

“It will lead to increased red tape and bureaucracy, and could actually increase costs for the state’s taxpayers,” Hollaine said in a statement. “Our greatest concern is that patients will get caught in the middle and have reduced access to the medicines they need. It’s for these reasons that we are actively opposing this measure.”

Here’s the main problem: The measure would prevent California’s version of Medicaid from buying drugs at any price higher than the price paid by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. But drug companies give special discounts to the VA, as a token of respect to the nation’s veterans – something they probably wouldn’t feel inclined to do for all Californians.

Aside from creating drug shortages, opponents of the measure worry that it will invalidate existing state contracts with pharmaceutical manufacturers, potentially increasing state costs by tens of millions of dollars.

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