Column: Prop 61 has some problems

Practical Idealism: Seeking a balance between what can be done and what should be done in the political landscape today


Dylan Bryant

Dylan Bryant, Reporter

It’s not often that you’ll find me disagreeing with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. I think his 2016 run at the presidency will have an undying impact on the Democratic Party. I think his plan to make college free for all Americans is genius. But I’m not too certain I can throw my support behind California’s Proposition 61.

Proposition 61 has, seemingly, good intentions. The measure would essentially bar state officials from purchasing prescription drugs at a cost higher than the lowest price paid by the Veterans Administration, which historically pays less for drugs than anyone.

The law would not compel companies to sell the drugs at that price, but rather officials will have to negotiate in order to achieve that price. Those affected by the measure would include roughly five million Californians covered by state health insurance, but would not include the state’s largest healthcare provider, MediCal, so only some will reap the benefits of these lower costs.

Proponents of the measure say it will save the state between $3 billion and $7 billion over the next 10 years, and it will be “ground zero” for price control legislation across the United States. Some supporters of the proposition include the AARP and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

The pharmaceutical industry has already spent upwards of $5 million in efforts to defeat Proposition 61, with major funding by Pfizer, Inc, and Merck Co. They argue the measure would inadvertently raise costs for veterans because companies will refuse to negotiate for lower rates with the VA, or will just raise the costs for the VA altogether.

They also criticize the small reach of the measure and say it may reduce access to medicine. Veterans organizations are generally opposed to the proposition, unwilling to risk their prices going up.

While supporters argue that federal law bars the pharmaceutical industry from raising prices on the VA, and that even if they did, those costs wouldn’t be passed on to patients, the risk is huge. Our veterans often choose between medical care for themselves and food on the table for their family, and if this bill makes that decision more frequent, then it has failed.

No one knows for sure if this legislation will work. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office said it may even raise costs for drugs across the board. But here’s why I’ll be supporting Proposition 61 this November. Despite my tremendous respect for veterans, I have a greater respect for humanity.

We are all deserving of health care, and we all are being overcharged by the pharmaceutical industry. Veterans have earned a special status in society for their sacrifices, that status should not be in regard to healthcare. There are better ways to honor our veterans. Sanders optimism rests in a belief – that the pharmaceutical industry will recognize voters frustration with price-gouging and correct their moral compass. If they don’t, they themselves will be to blame.