Voters rejected California's controversial drug price measure, putting an end to an expensive ballot initiative that struck a chord with a public increasingly frustrated by high drug prices.
The measure, on the ballot as Proposition 61, was rejected by 54% of voters or 4.57 million Californians.
The law would have allowed state agencies to pay for drugs at the price negotiated by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department. The VA's discounts range from 24% to 40%.
More than $125 million combined was spent by opponents and supporters of Proposition 61, making it one of California's most expensive ballot initiatives.
The pharmaceutical industry raised a good portion of the $109 million spent in a campaign to challenge the measure. Supporters raised slightly more than $16 million.
The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the California Nurses Association strongly supported the proposal. It also had the support of Hillary Clinton's populist primary challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Charles Idelson, communications director of the California Nurses Association, said the opposition campaign won by using “deceitful” tactics on voters. He said its advertising and marketing efforts didn't reveal they were primarily funded by the pharmaceutical industry.
Although Proposition 61 had strong voter support in August, it slipped as Election Day neared. A Nov. 4 poll had the initiative neck and neck among voters.
“Voters did their research and recognized Prop 61 was a seriously flawed measure,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the "No on Prop 61" campaign. “Prop 61 was bad policy that would have harmed millions of patients, veterans, taxpayers and others in California.”
Healthcare providers and even some patient advocates were concerned that the law would lead to higher drug prices and less access to medications. Its opponents included the California Medical Association, California Association of Rural Health Clinics, California Association of Neurological Surgeons and several veterans groups.
Physicians who spoke out against the measure were worried that drugmakers would retaliate by raising prices. Dr. Steven Larson, immediate past president of the California Medical Association, called Prop 61 “deeply flawed and unworkable.”
The law would have included state agencies that pay for drugs whether or not they're the direct purchaser. That includes California's Medi-Cal fee-for-service outpatient drug program and its AIDS Drug Assistance Program. But it excludes Medi-Cal managed-care plans, which cover about 75% of the state's Medicaid population.
Critics questioned the law's exclusion of managed-care plans, noting that the not-for-profit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the initiative's main sponsor, operates one of those excluded plans. The law would have affected about 4.4 million people, or 12% of California's population.
Garry South, lead strategist for the Yes on Proposition 61 campaign, said gathering support for the measure was “a tremendous uphill battle from the very start."
South, in a prepared statement, said Proposition 61 “now challenges legislators to resist the blandishments, threats and lobbying of big pharma to come up with a more comprehensive solution to lower skyrocketing drug prices.”