It seems to me that writing an opinion column results in my occasionally receiving a request from a reader to “look into” some subject or for help in clarifying an issue. I guess it comes with the territory so it’s not too unusual. What is unusual, however, happened recently when, in a period of three days, I was asked by about a half a dozen or more folks for my “take” on the same subject.
The most unusual request came from a long time friend who told me she had been at a social gathering when this topic came up and the group, not knowing how to deal with the subject, decided, “Ask Bill. He’ll know.” – so she was a sort of messenger for the group. What I find a bit unsettling is that these folks all figure I’m their “Go to” guy when it comes to answering questions and resolving issues. Anyway, I agreed to “look into” the matter, so here goes.
Okay, what’s all the hubbub and confusion about? It’s the upcoming statewide vote on Issue 2 which is a proposed law, “To require state agencies to not pay more for prescription drugs than the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and require state payment of attorney fees and expenses to specific individuals for defense of the law.” (That’s the “official” summary.)
So how did this issue come about? Well, it wasn’t a “grass roots” effort coming from Ohio citizens concerned with prescription drug prices. Nope, The latest information I’ve found is that the “Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices” campaign was initiated by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), a California-based organization, which spent a total of $1.87 million to collect the required number of valid signatures to put this measure on the ballot. A tidy sum for an out-of-state organization to spend raising this issue in Ohio, doncha think?
Overall, the campaign for Issue 2 has raised almost $6.23 million, 99.99 percent of which came from AHF itself. Interestingly enough, nearly 80 percent of AHF’s revenue comes from selling prescription drugs through its own pharmacies. AHF’s pharmacy proceeds totaled $801 million in 2015 – an increase of more than 400 percent since 2010 so AHF must have a really great business plan. Kinda wonder what part Ohio might play. Anything else?
Yep, AHF (and its subsidiaries) has frequently engaged in litigation in support of its interests – having filed some 52 lawsuits against taxpayer-funded government agencies, including three lawsuits against government agencies in Ohio. That’s where that bit requiring “state payment of attorney fees and expenses to specific individuals for defense of the law” comes in. If the proposal is passed and is contested in court, the state (we taxpayers) must pay “specific individuals” for defense of the law. Three of the four “specific individuals” belong to AHF.
Okay, what about opposition? Well, it’s organized as “Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue” and has raised $16.23 million with 100 percent of the total funds coming from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) which is based in Washington D C. Over 80 Ohio organizations such as veterans groups and professional medical organizations have aligned themselves with PhRMA and come out in opposition to Issue 2.
What about lower drug prices as the proposal suggests? A paid report from a Case Western Reserve University professor shows savings of as much as $536 million per year but the figure supporters usually cite is around $400 million. On the other hand, a former state budget director and three former Ohio Medicaid directors analyzed this report and characterized it as “extremely flawed” because, among other things, the savings did not consider the difficulty of implementation or current savings. Of even greater significance, however, is a report from the Office of Budget and Management that said savings are “plausible”, but it’s impossible to determine exactly how much could be saved – if anything.
Folks, I’ve found there’s much more to this story, all of which is all too muddled, too confusing for me. Frankly, I really don’t like diving into murky waters like this – not knowing what lies beneath the surface. For example, I wonder what “skin in the game” that California outfit has in coming to Ohio with this proposal – what do those folks have to gain? Yep, I have more questions than answers and I seriously doubt they can be resolved. As a result, my “take” on this issue, in short, is this proposal has too many unknowns for me to support it. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]