Lawmakers in the nation’s capital have yet to grapple with rising drug costs. But in Ohio, voters are being asked by a ballot initiative to consider making a law that would require the state to pay no more for prescription drugs than the federal Department of Veterans Affairs does.
The Drug Price Relief Act, better known as Ohio Issue 2, has been promoted and pilloried in a dizzying crush of robocalls, direct mail and ads on TV and radio.
Opponents say the law would be impossible to implement, could limit patients’ access to medicines and wouldn’t necessarily save money. Proponents are selling the initiative as a form of rebellion that could save millions of dollars in an era of health care anxiety.
And in the run-up to Election Day, voters say it’s difficult to make sense of it all.
Sean Hundley, 30, works at a coffee shop in the trendy Short North neighborhood in Columbus, the state capital. He is covered by Medicaid and said he has seen plenty of advertising from both sides, but he can’t figure out who is telling the truth.
“Everything they say, not knowing who to trust — it would just lead me not to cast a vote,” he said.
This reaction highlights one of the difficulties of asking voters to sort out such a complex issue.
But what Ohio voters decide could have implications well beyond the state’s borders.
In the absence of federal action, some states have begun taking legislative steps to lessen the toll of rising drug costs on their budgets. If Issue 2 passes in Ohio on Tuesday, the ballot-question approach may gain momentum.
Advocates in South Dakota and the District of Columbia are already pushing for similar drug pricing initiatives in the November 2018 election. That is part of the reason why the Ohio initiative has drawn attention and spending from outside the state.
Supporters have raised more than $14 million, with most of that money coming from the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Opponents, bankrolled by the pharmaceutical industry, have raised $58 million.