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Groups launch Prop. 79 campaign in CA for cheaper prescription drugs

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Over 100 Consumer, Health, and Senior Organizations Launch Prop. 79 Campaign for Cheaper Drugs
Ballot Measure Offers Deep, Enforceable Prescription Drug Discounts For Californians Who Can’t Afford to Pay High Retail Prices

SACRAMENTO, CA – Over 100 organizations representing millions of California consumers, seniors, patients, and families have endorsed Proposition 79 and launched their campaign at a news conference in Sacramento today. The coalition supporting the prescription drug discount ballot measure laid out plans for an aggressive grassroots and web-based campaign aimed at mobilizing voters throughout California to support Prop 79 and reject Prop. 78, the pharmaceutical industry-sponsored measure that also will appear on the November 8 ballot.
“The pharmaceutical industry has raised over $75 million to flood the airwaves with misleading ads to try to protect their ability to price-gouge Californians,” said Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California. “We intend to campaign throughout the state to energize voters in neighborhoods and online to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies and give California the negotiating power to rein in high drug prices.”
Prop. 79 enables the state to use its market clout as a big purchaser of drugs to negotiate deep and enforceable discounts for Californians who cannot afford to pay retail prices for prescription drugs. Prop. 78 relies on drug manufacturers to voluntarily lower their prices and does not allow the state of California to enforce any discounts. The voluntary program under Prop 78 could end at any time if not enough drug companies agree to participate.
“We have evaluated both of these measures and concluded that Prop. 79 is the real solution for bringing affordable drug prices to Californians struggling to fill their prescriptions,” said Earl Lui, Staff Attorney for Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Californians need real help paying for their prescription drugs, not another empty promise from drug companies to voluntarily lower prices.”
California buys over $4 billion of prescription drugs through the state’s Medi-Cal program and uses this massive purchasing power to negotiate discounts of 50 percent and more on many drugs. If a drug company refuses to meet the asking price, the state can shift business away from that company and buy more from others that agree to acceptable discounts. Under Prop. 79, the state would be empowered to use this same leverage to negotiate drug discounts for Californians who are uninsured, underinsured, or have high healthcare costs.
“Everyone knows that drug prices are far lower in other countries like Canada where the government uses its negotiating strength to keep prices affordable,” said Emily Clayton, health advocate for CalPIRG. “It’s time for California to use this same approach to help those who can’t afford to pay such high prices for the medicine they need to stay healthy.”
Prop 79 covers an estimated 8-10 million Californians or about twice as many as would be covered by Prop. 78. The drug industry’s measure excludes many uninsured Californians, like those with catastrophic medical bills and the chronically ill with inadequate insurance coverage. Prop 79 builds on Medi-Cal’s success to negotiate discounts of 50 percent or more for eligible Californians. The discounts offered by Prop. 78 are based on the “lowest commercial price” set by the drug companies who volunteered to participate, and those prices are subject to change.
The last time California tried a voluntary drug discount program like Prop. 78 was in 2001 under the Golden Bear State Pharmacy program. More than 500 invitations were sent to drug manufacturers to participate, but only 14 responded and Governor Schwarzenegger ultimately ended the program.
“Why should California voters suddenly believe that the drug companies will line up to provide voluntary discounts if Prop 78 is approved?” asked Trudy Schafer of the League of Women Voters of California. “If drug companies were truly interested in providing voluntary discounts, they would have lowered their prices a long time ago.”
To reach voters throughout the state, the Yes on 79 campaign is energizing the grassroots networks of the over 100 organizations that have endorsed the ballot measure so far. Consumers Union will begin reaching out to its own base of 30,000 online activists in California today to enlist their support and coordinate web-based outreach to the members of other endorsing organizations. The groups aim to sign-up 100,000 “Yes on 79” activists through a newly launched campaign web site and the viral dissemination of a series of short films via email to reach voters in a humorous and informative way. Activists will be recruited to engage in door-to-door canvassing, host house parties, distribute campaign flyers at public events, contribute funds, and get involved in other activities to get the word out about Prop 79.
The Prop. 79 campaign is organizing over 100 town hall meetings at senior centers and other venues and has a full schedule of presentations before other community groups to recruit their support. The campaign is set to open a new field office in Los Angeles on September 15 and a campaign kick-off event is planned in San Francisco on September 20.
“We’re convinced that voters will respond to our grassroots campaign and reject the drug companies’ attempt to buy this election and their latest false promise to voluntarily lower prices,” said Nan Brasmer, President of California Alliance of Retired Americans. “Prop. 79 will deliver cheaper drugs more Californians can count on.”
More information about Prop 79 can be found at www.VoteYesOnProp79.org

Anthony Wright, HA, 916-870-4782 (cell)
Michael McCauley, CU, 415-431-6747