n Ohio court has given a significant boost to a controversial ballot measure that is designed to lower the cost of medicines.
In a ruling last Friday, the state Supreme Court decided that thousands of contested signatures on petitions submitted to the General Assembly were valid.
And the court also ordered the Secretary of State to permit consumer activists to submit yet another petition that is required for final approval by county officials so the measure can go before voters in November 2017.
“This was a huge victory,” said Don McTigue, an attorney who represents a consumer group that has fought to place the measure on the ballot. “Hopefully, we are now on our way to giving Ohio citizens a chance to vote on this proposal.”
The 4-to-3 decision capped months of procedural and legal skirmishes over the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act, which would require the state to pay no more for medicines than the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Currently, the VA gets a 24 percent discount off average manufacturer prices.
The measure was proposed by a consumer group with backing from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit that runs pharmacies and clinics nationwide, and is backing a similar but highly controversial effort in California. That measure is already scheduled for a vote this coming November and has drawn significant opposition from the pharmaceutical industry.
These attempts come amid intensifying angst over the cost of prescription medicines, an issue that is now a key talking point in the presidential campaign and the focus of a stream of congressional hearings and investigations. The latest subject of outrage is the EpiPen device sold by Mylan Pharmaceuticals to treat life-threatening allergic reactions.
To what extent Congress or the next President will take action remains to be seen, but state legislatures have become a more active venue in the meantime. Besides the ballot measures proposed in Ohio and California, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have separately proposed bills to require drug makers to disclose their costs or justify price hikes. Only Vermont, however, has signed such a bill into law.
In Ohio, the ballot measure was opposed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry trade group, the Ohio Manufacturers Association, and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The groups contested the validity of signatures on a petition that had to be submitted to the general assembly as part of the state’s two-step process to place a measure on the ballot.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted responded by requiring a review of the petition, and the consumer group then turned around and filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing the opposition was an illegal stalling tactic. In its ruling, the court ruling has now directed Husted to allow the consumer group to proceed with plans to submit a second petition that must be approved by county officials in the state.
For its part, the pharmaceutical industry has contended the Ohio and California measures are more likely to increase costs. The industry campaign has cited an analysis by the US Department of Veterans Affairs that suggested the California measure could produce such an outcome if drug makers respond by raising prices.