Ohio drug price initiative leaving voters confused


CEDARVILLE, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - The ads are everywhere.

"Over the next few months, you're going to hear a lot about the November ballot issue," one advertisement begins.

The full spot shows a handful of patients, physicians and veterans' agencies, all reasoning why voters should not vote for the Drug Price Standard Initiative.

It's one of several being run on Ohio airwaves.

Another is an advertisement supporting the measure, showing a wounded veteran. "The Drug Price Relief Act calls on drug companies to take a step to lower prescriptions for over 4 million Ohioans," he says.

Supporters of the initiative want the state to pay no more than what the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs pays for the same drugs.

According to their website: "If voters pass the measure, the State of Ohio would be required to pay no more for prescription drugs than is paid for the same medications by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It could also negotiate for prices below those paid by the Department. This would encompass all drug purchases in which the State is the ultimate payer, whether it purchased the drugs directly from the pharmaceutical companies or not."

"If the VA pays a dollar for a pill, Ohioans would pay a dollar for that pill," said Dennis Willard, a spokesman for Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices. "So, we'll pay the same price as the VA pays."

The group says the VA pays up to 24 percent less than other agencies, and a 'yes' from voters could save up to $750 million.

Dale Butland, spokesman for the opposing Deceptive RX Ballot Issue, isn't sold.

"Most of us learned a long time ago that things that sound too good to be true usually are," he said.

According to Butland, more than 60 percent of people aren't covered under the proposal, since it would only impact a handful of people, including government workers, and people on Medicaid. He says it could actually drive up prices for everyone else, as drug companies recoup costs.

Supporters say that's not the case. On their website, a detailed analysis states, "The Ohio market is simply too big and too lucrative for the drug industry to ignore or to retaliate against. It would be a public relations disaster if nothing else."

But, the facts on both sides are muddled, as voters get bombarded with spots structured more like hit pieces.

"Negative advertising is used so much because it works," said Dr. Mark Caleb Smith with Cedarville University.

Aside from ads, Smith told Fox 45's Shavon Anderson that most people aren't informed because issues slip through the cracks in an off-election year. He also said some campaigns intentionally place issues on the ballot in an off-year election.

"You're looking at your smallest number of necessary 'yes' votes in order to actually get this thing passed," he said.

Getting people energized is also an uphill battle.

"Right now, a lot of people don't know what this is, they've never heard of it before," Butland said.

With ads on loop for the next few month, there's still time to get people on board. However, a nearly identical measure failed on California's ballot last year. So far, more than 30 statewide groups have opposed the push in Ohio, including physicians, veterans and the Chamber of Commerce.

Butland also noted what he said is an important part of the initiative that taxpayers don't understand.

A paragraph from the Deceptive RX website states, "Experts say the measure would be nearly impossible to implement and will lead to more red tape and government bureaucracy. What’s more, the ballot issue’s sponsors cunningly slipped in an unprecedented provision giving them a blank check to intervene — at taxpayer expense — in any legal challenges that may be filed."

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