Handing pharma a win, Ohio voters overwhelmingly reject drug pricing measure

Voters in Ohio rejected a drug pricing proposal by a 79% to 21% margin.

Score another win for pharma in the state-by-state war over drug prices. Ohio voters soundly rejected Issue 2 on their ballots Tuesday, marking a victory for an industry that has been dealt losses elsewhere in recent months.

Voters rejected the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act by a 79% to 21% margin, according to unofficial results from the Ohio Secretary of State's office. The vote followed a large industry fundraising effort and accusations of "dark money" influencing the public's perception of the proposal.

Issue 2 proposed limiting drug prices for state agencies to those paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs—similar to a ballot issue that California voters rejected a year ago—but also contained a stipulation that taxpayers pay for attorney fees and a defense of the law.  

That mandate, according to one voter interviewed by the Columbus Dispatch, was enough of a reason to vote no.

According to the Dispatch, drug companies raised about $60 million to fight off the proposal, while supporters only raised about a fourth of that amount.

Reacting to the loss, Issue 2 campaigners said that, although they fell short, the effort "is just the beginning of an awareness in Ohio about what huge drug companies are doing to our people." 

“This system we have for drug pricing in America has got to give, and sooner rather than later one state will successfully stand up to big drug companies and Ohio will wish it could have been the first,” Yes on Issue 2 wrote in a statement seen by the Dispatch.

A PhRMA spokeswoman told FiercePharma that voters "rejected this flawed proposal because they understood the devastating consequences it could have had on Ohioans."

"Conversations about the cost of medicines are important, but Issue 2’s flawed policy was not the answer to the challenges people face accessing and affording their medicines," she wrote via email. "We look forward to working with state lawmakers, patients, healthcare providers and others to find solutions that will make a real difference for patients.”

RELATED: California governor, rebuffing pharma pleas, signs breakthrough drug pricing bill 

Back in August, proponents of the issue accused the pharmaceutical industry of using a limited liability corporation to shield donations by drugmakers from public disclosure. That claim followed a report by the Dispatch that Amgen and Biogen voluntarily disclosed contributing $7.7 million to a PhRMA-founded LLC fighting the measure. Other drugmakers may have pitched in for the fight, but didn’t have to disclose their commitments.

PhRMA responded that the LLC was merely “a way to provide specific money for a specific state campaign,” adding that the organization didn’t create the corporation to hide money.

Ohio's vote came one year after voters in California rejected a similar proposal despite support from Sen. Bernie Sanders, a prominent pharma critic. Since then, however, state-level pricing action has picked up, with Maryland, Nevada and California all implementing their own price controls through state legislatures. 

Maryland's law focuses on "unconscionable" price hikes in the generic sector, while Nevada is looking to bring transparency to diabetes medicine pricing. California's new law forces health insurers to disclose costs of certain drugs and will require pharmaceutical manufacturers to give warning of price hikes. 

Certain pricing information will be published on a government website under the California bill as well.

According to research from the National Academy for State Health Policy, lawmakers in 30 states have drafted 60 pricing transparency bills. Aside from pricing considerations, pharma has largely resisted the proposals because differing requirements from state to state would complicate compliance and make it tougher to do business, industry officials say.