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Forecast Update: CA’s Prop. 61 Now A Toss-Up, New Poll Shows

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Xconomy reported Thursday that support for Proposition 61, the California initiative to rein in drug prices, had slipped in a recent poll to a slim 51 percent majority, with 24 percent opposed and 25 percent undecided.

Since then, a new state poll from a different pollster has put Prop. 61’s chances at a toss-up: 47 percent for, 47 percent against, and a much smaller 6 percent undecided.

The initiative has attracted $109 million from opponents, as of last week. The top ten, from Merck and Pfizer ($9.4 million each) to GlaxoSmithKline ($4.5 million), are all drug companies, and their advertising campaign is having an impact.

Supporters have pitched in $17 million, mainly from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles and the California Nurses Association. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is holding last-minute rallies and lending his face and voice to ad campaigns to drum up support with an anti-pharma message he used frequently in his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

If voters say yes, Prop. 61 would require state healthcare entities to pay drug prices equal to or less than those paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which are generally considered some of the lowest, if not the lowest, in the country. Those California entities spent $4.2 billion on prescription drugs in the fiscal 2014-15 year. The measure would lead to “significant savings,” according to proponents.

The state’s legislative analyst office has not backed up those claims, saying instead that the fiscal impact was unclear for two main reasons. First, the prices negotiated by the VA are secret. They start with a discounted price list, but can go down from there. It’s assumed the VA gets even more discounts, but it’s not transparent.

Second, there’s no telling what the drug companies will do if Prop. 61 passes. Opponents have hinted at unintended consequences, and executives have sounded alarms in recent weeks.

In the new Field Poll released November 4, support for Prop. 61 was divided starkly by party lines. Registered Democrats were for it 60 percent, against it 33 percent, with 7 percent undecided. Registered Republicans were for it 25 percent, against it 72 percent, and 3 percent undecided.

The survey took place in the last week of October.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Quintano via Creative Commons.