With pharma lobbying hard, California's contentious Prop 61 is now a toss-up, poll shows

Despite a push by populist Sen. Bernie Sanders in favor of California's drug pricing measure, efforts to derail it appear to be working. Earlier polls showed “yes” votes having a distinct advantage, but a poll released Friday indicates voters are now evenly divided in the election’s final stretch.

A new Field-IGS poll of nearly 1,500 voters in the nation’s most populous state finds that 47% plan to vote yes, 47% plan to vote no and 6% are undecided on Prop 61. If passed, the measure would require the state buy to its prescription drugs at a price no higher than that charged by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Pharma has committed serious capital to stop the measure, with some fearing that the idea could spread elsewhere if it’s passed. To date, the industry has raised $109 million to buy ads arguing that Prop 61 could lead to higher drug costs for veterans. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis, Amgen and AbbVie have contributed to the "No" group, according to Ballotpedia.

The new data represent a sizable turnaround from the same poll in September that found “yes” votes leading by a margin of 50% to 16%, with 34% undecided. Field Research said in its newest poll that “Yes side support has declined slightly, and nearly all of those previously undecided have moved to the No side.”

But the measure has attracted some big-name support from frequent pharma critic Sen. Bernie Sanders. In the month leading up to the election, Sanders has been hosting rallies to encourage “yes” votes and has appeared in a half-hour film that creators say highlights pharma’s “greed.”

In the end, Prop 61 “could be the ballot measure with the most money spent on it ever in the nation's history,” Ballotpedia says, with the “Yes” and “No” groups having raised nearly $126 million as of the beginning of November.

For the pharma industry, the measure will be one key election result to keep an eye on, in addition to the control in Congress and the presidential race. Despite more than a year of sharp rhetoric on drug pricing, some policy experts have said that any real legislation on the issue won’t come until 2017, and only then as part of an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act.