Sanders backs California drug pricing proposal despised by industry

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Sen. Bernie Sanders has railed loudly against drugmakers and their pricing throughout his presidential run. Now he is throwing his support behind a California ballot initiative that is being furiously opposed by drugmakers who fear the proposal to limit drug prices, if passed, could spark a national movement.

The California Drug Price Relief Act, which will be voted on in November, 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. The department has the power to negotiate lower prices for medications.

Sanders, in California to campaign this week, said, “While Congress has failed to stand up to the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, the people of California can by supporting this ballot initiative.”

Politico recently reported that the drug industry has set aside as much as $100 million to fight the California proposal, which they fear could set a precedent. Local laws in California requiring drugmakers to help pay for recycling unused meds have been copied elsewhere.

One Republican drug lobbyist, speaking anonymously, told Politico the initiative was “a grenade being rolled into the conversation,” and is being taken very seriously by the industry.

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a California nonprofit devoted to consumer protection issues, told the publication the ballot issue could be the “crack in the door,” that could lead to drug price negotiations by Medicare.

“If any Democrat in America wants bulk purchasing in Medicare, it will start with bulk purchasing for the most liberal state government in America,” Court said.

Actually, it is not just Democrats who are talking about putting a lid on drug prices. While both Sanders and leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton both support allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump also has criticized the industry’s pricing. While he initially supported price negotiations by Medicare, when he released his healthcare plan, it had been dropped as an idea. Instead, he suggested allowing Americans to buy drugs from countries like Canada and the U.K., where they are cheaper.

While a lot of talk has been devoted to giving Medicare the power to negotiate with drugmakers, a report released in February by the nonpartisan research group, the National Coalition on Health Care, said that price negotiations alone would do little to lower the prices American pay for drugs. It said the complex problem would require a range of policy changes. 

Clinton is positioned to win the Democratic nomination, despite Sanders winning another primary on Tuesday, this time in West Virginia. Still, his strength among young and disenchanted Democrats is keeping issues like lowering drug prices on the front burner of the campaign. 

- here’s Sanders announcement
- read the Politico story

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