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Voters reject drug-pricing Issue 2

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Jim Ruvolo and Derek Barnett give pro-and-con sides of Issue 2 to students and staff at Mercy College of Ohio in late October.

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COLUMBUS — In a ballot fight that largely came down to whom voters trusted — or distrusted — more, Ohioans on Tuesday soundly defeated a proposed law promising to cut what taxpayers pay for prescription drugs.

RELATED: Complete local election results

Supporters of Issue 2 wasted little time conceding the Ohio battle after early returns were so lopsided against it. The race was called early on with a jump of 80 percent of voters rejecting the issue.

Now, supporters likely will turn their eyes to the next battles, possibly in South Dakota and Washington, D.C.

“Seventy-five million (in opposition spending) can convince people to vote against their own best interests,” said Issue 2 spokesman Dennis Willard. “It’s unfortunate...

“We’re very optimistic and confident moving forward that we are going to address this problem,” he said. “We’ll be back to fight another day. This is a national problem, and it affects Ohioans deeply.”

He predicted that once such a proposal is successful in one state, “other states will fall like dominoes.”

Voters said “no” to the idea of legally tying state government spending on prescription drugs to discounts mandated or voluntarily negotiated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The opposition, wholly funded by the drug industry, set spending records on its campaign to defeat Issue 2 — approaching $60 million through Oct. 18. It also made allies of organizations representing physicians, nurses, hospitals, pharmacists, veterans, the mentally ill, business, and labor.

“These trusted leaders who best understood the potential harms of Issue 2 were active and visible in our campaign, and they helped persuade their fellow Ohioans to cast a no vote on today’s ballot,” said the opposition’s campaign manager, Curt Steiner. “As the saying goes, what sounds too good to be true usually is.

“Indeed, Issue 2 was wrong for patients and wrong for taxpayers,” he said. “Issue 2 would not have lowered drug prices or saved the state money, as proponents repeatedly promised, without foundation. That’s why Ohio voters rejected the unsubstantiated claims made by Issue 2 sponsors and voted decisively to say ‘no’ to Issue 2.”

The campaign for Issue 2, Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, spent about $14 million during the same period. It was funded almost entirely by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, made calls urging Ohioans to support it, and a couple of medical professional groups bucked the trend to endorse it. But it never built anything close to the coalition on the opposite side.

It also could not match the spending power of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which spent more than $100 million last year to defeat a similar measure in California.

Both sides made their own predictions to voters about what Issue 2 would do, financing studies that came to opposite conclusions and leaving voters confused. Both sides demonized the other in their TV ads.

Conventional wisdom suggests that when voters are confused, they tend to vote “no.” And they did on Tuesday.

The “yes” campaign said that prohibiting the state, or any healthcare programs it funds, from paying more for prescription drugs than what the VA pays would save taxpayers $400 million a year to cover the 4 million Ohioans served by those programs. It suggested in ads that those savings could translate into tax cuts.

But the opposition, which included the drug companies that would make pricing decisions, told voters Issue 2 would result in cost-shifting to the roughly 7 million Ohioans not served by other government programs.

It noted Medicaid already enjoys a hefty discount rivaling the VA’s and predicted the industry would stop voluntarily negotiating discounts if it knows those prices would be locked in for everyone else in the marketplace.

Even the state’s Office of Budget and Management couldn’t come up with a number for taxpayer savings. Required under law to put a dollar figure on the impact, It found that the pictures painted by both sides were possible.

The opposition also made much of a provision in the proposed state law that would have given legal standing to those who put the issue on the ballot in case they felt the need to defend it in court. Taxpayers would have had to pick up their legal fees.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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