Pharma fights back via Facebook after two-front drug pricing attack in California

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Drug lobbyists are getting a workout in California, where groups are fighting rising drug prices on two fronts.

Even as the industry is fighting a ballot initiative to hold prescription prices at whatever the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays, a bill has been introduced into the legislature that would require drugmakers to give 60-day advance notice of planned price hikes.

That author of the price transparency bill, Sen. Ed Hernandez, told Kaiser Health News, “It’s probably amongst one of the more heavily lobbied bills,” along with battles over tobacco restrictions.

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The industry has taken its opposition straight to the residents of the tech heavy state with a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, Kaiser reports, using ads that say the proposed law is a recipe for drug shortages.

The industry’s argument is that having to give a two-month heads up on price raises would allow large drug purchasers that have the ability to store drugs to stock up, potentially leaving independent pharmacies or community hospitals unable to get meds.  

The California Life Sciences Association, which says it represents 750 California “life sciences innovators,” said in a statement recently that the bill “puts patient access to medicine at risk by promoting the hoarding of needed medicines by large purchasers and encouraging the growth of a medication ‘gray market’ where secondary distributors sell to the highest bidder.”

It not only could lead to drug shortages but lead to “huge price mark-ups” for some patients and hospitals.  

Part of the assault on drug prices comes from the California Drug Price Relief Act, which will be voted on in November. It would prohibit the state from paying more for a prescription drug than the lowest price paid for the same drug by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which has the power to negotiate lower prices for medications.

That initiative is not unique. Vermont passed a drug pricing transparency bill in June aimed at keeping a lid on drug prices. But given California’s reputation as a regulations trendsetter, the initiative is reportedly being taken very seriously by the industry. Politico recently reported the industry has a $100 million war chest to fight it.

Industry, however, has found what would seem like an unlikely ally in the form of a patient advocacy group for people with HIV and hepatitis C. The group has raised concerns that the bill would do more harm than good.

“We agree with the proponents that we need to do something, but we just don’t think this is it,” Anne Donnelly, director of Project Inform told the New York Times. “It doesn’t appear to save the State of California perhaps any money, and it could have some negative effects.”

- read the Kaiser Health News story 
- California Life Sciences Association comment 
more from the New York Times   

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