Politics, Pricing

Prop 61 goes down in flames, torching a national drug price control model

In the final hours leading up to the election in California, backers of Proposition 61 billed it as a national model for reining in drug prices. But today, the measure and the movement are in tatters after voters handily rejected the initiative.

The state, which voted for Hillary Clinton while the much of the rest of the nation went for Donald Trump, was won over by a last-ditch marketing campaign that billed Proposition 61 — which would have capped drug prices at the discount rate negotiated by the Veterans Administration — as a sure-fire way to raise costs for veterans. Opponents, backed with more than $100 million from Big Pharma to spread the message, claimed that companies would be unlikely to offer the VA big discounts on drugs if it became a cost control tool.

The line was clearly drawn in the sand for the pharma industry, which has had to deal with Hillary Clinton’s carefully calibrated “war on pharma,” as outlined in emails by campaign staffers which were released by WikiLeaks.

“It’s not only bad legislation, it’s bad for your health,” John Lechleiter, CEO of Eli Lilly, told analysts a few days ago. “And we’re trying to impress that on the voters.”

Backers, though, went to extremes in painting pharma CEOs like Pfizer’s Ian Read and Allergan’s Brent Saunders as corporate criminals who run companies convicted on past marketing infractions. They were pictured in “Wanted” posters and skewered for their greedy, grasping ways.

Politically, the campaign was a disaster in the face of pharma’s backlash, which focused on veterans and unintended consequences. A week ago, projecting the move as a common-sense effort to counter agencies’ helplessness to negotiate process, Prop 61 was an odds-on favorite. Now price control advocates will have to regroup and refocus, with a postmortem due on their failed tactics.

If Prop 61 can’t pass in California, it will stand an even lower chance in the rest of Trump’s America.


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