Our mailboxes and the airways have been loaded with “Vote No on Issue 2” messages with very little explanation what Issue 2 is about. As a physician who’s had decades working with the drug companies, I’d like to share my perspective.
Background on Issue 2: Our federal government has had an agreement with drug companies to get lower costs for VA medications than what they cost elsewhere. Issue 2 is an attempt to give our state agencies and state funded programs the ability to purchase their drugs at the same or less cost as the VA currently pays. This would be about 20 to 24 percent less than these agencies currently pay and should offer Ohio at least a $350 million savings per year.
As a tax payer, I know that what the “state pays,” means what “we pay” with our tax dollars, so this sounds good. Let’s look at why the opposition seems so strong.
Drug companies oppose Issue 2: On May 1 of this year, drug companies formed a 501(c)(6) nonprofit that allows drug companies to contribute unlimited funds to defeat this ballot initiative. This nonprofit allows the names of individual drug companies to remain unknown while they contribute unlimited amounts of money. All we know is that drug companies donated $15.8 million to defeat Issue 2.
Is Issue 2 fair to drug companies?: Most of us have heard that drug companies develop drugs and need to recoup this cost of development. However, it is we taxpayers, and not the drug companies, who pay the vast majority of each new drug’s development. The National Institute of Health (NIH)—funded entirely with our tax dollars—pays all of the basic discovery and research costs. Our tax dollars still contribute to the late stage of a drug’s development, but then pharmaceutical companies contribute large sums which they recoup through patenting the drug.
If we pay less for drugs, it would it still be profitable for drug companies to bring drugs to market. Drug companies now average an 18 percent profit margin—the largest of any industry, larger than banks or oil companies. The 20 top-earning CEO’s individually make between $13.96 million to $41.97 million per year.
Consumers don’t have enough power as individuals or even as states to negotiate what would be fair profits for drug companies and affordable drugs for consumers. That’s why Issue 2 attempts to include more people under the federal government’s VA agreement for lower drug costs. This is how people in other countries pay less for their drugs than we do.
Is Issue 2 fair to us?: Some groups will benefit from Issue 2 that don’t include a lot of us. For example, my husband and I—and many of you—will still pay for our drugs out-of- pocket. But there are two reasons why I think it is still wise to vote YES on issue 2.
The first reason is that Ohio’s $350 million savings per year can hopefully be spent on other things our taxes pay for like roads, schools, police and fire departments.
The second reason for voting YES on Issue 2 is to avoid the many tragedies that happen when people can’t afford their medications, which now include heart attacks, kidney failure and even deaths from cancer.
I confess to being impatient by nature and want affordable medication now and for everyone. However, I’ve learned that we sometimes need to keep our eye on the prize even when we can only take a single step toward our goal. I believe Issue 2 is an important step and that is why I will vote YES on Issue 2.
Mary Lou Shaw is a local resident and physician.