COLUMBUS—Backers of a proposed drug-pricing law seemed to lag behind from the very beginning, long before Ohio voters gave it a resounding drubbing at the polls on Tuesday.
It was almost the mirror opposite result for Issue 1, the victims’ rights constitutional amendment that voters embraced.
“Both of the issues were sold in a particular way,” said Caleb Smith, associate professor of political science and director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University. “The contents of the issue made it easier or harder to sell them. Issue 1 was fairly easily defined.
“Even if you didn’t understand everything, you hear ‘victims’ rights’ and connect with a story,” he said. “That was a pretty easy sell.”
Not so with Issue 2, which would have tied what state health-care programs pay for prescription drugs to that paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It was complicated and unclear as to what it was going to do,” Mr. Smith said. “When voters don’t understand a ballot issue or are confused, the default vote is ‘no;.”
Issue 1 had no organized opposition, although prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers raised their concerns about how it would affect the justice system. Opposing Issue 1 was not a politically savvy move, Mr. Smith said.
“Who wants to go on the record as opposing victims rights?” he asked.
The constitutional amendment passed with 1,895,540, or 82.6 percent of the total, and 399,696, or 17.4 percent, voting against it.
As for Issue 2, voters rejected it by a margin of nearly 4 to 1. The unofficial final result on election night had 1,816,074, or 79.3 percent, saying “no” with just 474,741, or 20.7 percent, supporting it.
Issue 2, a proposed initiated statute, was delayed for a year after questions were raised by the drug industry about the validity of some signatures and Secretary of State Jon Husted ordered a second look at petitions by county boards of elections.
In the interim, Californians defeated a similar proposal from the same backer after the pharmaceutical industry poured more than $100 million into the campaign against it.
The Ohio campaign followed much the same playbook, with the “yes” side holding up the alleged misdeeds of the drug industry as reasons why voters should take matters into the own hands with passage of Issue 2.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association countered by casting Michael Weinstein, president of the primary force behind the ballot question, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, in the role of villain as a “California health-care CEO.”
And the industry successfully brought voters’ attention to the second part of the ballot question, which would have given the backers legal standing to defend the law if it passed and was later challenged in court. Taxpayers would have had to foot the bill.
The drug industry put a record amount of money behind it. It had spent roughly $60 million to kill the issue as of Oct. 18, and a new record will be set when the final tab is disclosed in the next report due in December.
Despite being 0-2 so far, supporters of the drug-pricing issue are looking to South Dakota or Washington D.C. for their next fights.
“Drug companies have made $711 billion in profits in the last 10 years…,” campaign spokesman Dennis Willard said on election night. “It would be one thing if it was not hurting people…We believe that eventually people will see the light, and we will be victorious. And the first time we win in one state you’re going to see other states fall like dominoes.”
The opposition, however, said the proposal was simply unworkable.
“Adoption of Issue 2 would have increased bureaucracy and raised costs for Ohio Medicaid and other state agencies that provide prescription drugs to Ohioans,” said Curt Steiner, the opposition’s campaign manager, on election night.
“And passage would have led to health care cost increases for the two thirds of Ohioans who are not covered by state programs—including military veterans using VA benefits, those on Medicare, and families with private or employer-based insurance,:” he said.