What is Proposition 61?
The Legislative Analyst’s Office for the California Legislature’s Nonpartisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor reports that Proposition 61 was an initiative designed to prohibit state agencies from paying more for prescription drugs than “the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the same drug.”
Following the election on November 8, 2016, however, residents in California voted in opposition of Proposition 61, which means that, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, state agencies will “continue to be able to negotiate the prices of, and pay for, prescription drugs without reference to the prices paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the only government agency that currently possesses the ability to negotiate the price of prescription medications, therefore allowing them to pay the least amount for certain prescription drugs than any other agency. Presently, the VA pays approximately 24 percent less for prescription medications than the rest of the country, and they have the ability to negotiate more discounts on top of that. If Proposition 61 had come to fruition, it would have allowed everyone to benefit from the same price reduction.
Increase in Prescription Medication Costs
Proposition 61 was brought forth as a result of the continual increase in prescription drug costs. In October of 2016, Business Insider reporter, Lydia Ramsey, noted that the price that Americans have paid for prescription drugs thus far in 2016 is seven percent higher than that which was paid in 2015. This rise in costs marks the largest change in the country over the past 24 years.
With this constant increase, individuals throughout the state of California, and the rest of the country as a whole, have had to find ways to afford the medications that they are prescribed. It was the hope of those in favor of Proposition 61 that the implementation of the law would lessen the financial strain for individuals who are in need of prescription medications.
Pharmaceutical companies, however, made a concerted effort to prevent Proposition 61 from passing. As noted in The New York Times, the “pharmaceutical industry [contributed] $109 million to defeat Proposition 61, the most money raised for or against any of the 17 statewide ballot initiatives this year.” Their efforts proved successful.
Positives and Negatives
One of the most obvious negatives of Proposition 61 being opposed is that individuals in Riverside, and throughout the rest of California, face the risk of prescription drug costs potentially continuing to skyrocket. Those who struggle to afford them now will continue to struggle and may, unfortunately, face greater struggles should the prices increase.
That being said, however, there can be one benefit found in Proposition 61’s failure to pass. A drop in the cost of prescription drugs could make it easier for individuals who do not possess a medical need for such medications to acquire them. In other words, if the proposition had passed, individuals who abuse various types of prescription medications in order to achieve a recreational high or to self-medicate outside of the guidelines of a physician, could have had a higher likelihood of getting their hands on these substances. Lower costs can mean easier access, which, in the state of the country’s current drug addiction epidemic, can mean an increase in the prominence with which these substances are abused. The abuse of opioids, in particular, has placed the country in a state of heightened crisis as addictions to these substances have overwhelmed countless communities.
Opioids are found in many prescription painkillers, and if the cost of those medications decreased, it is probable that they would become even more widely abused.
Regardless of the costs of prescription medications, it is imperative for treatment centers in Riverside and its surrounding communities to remain abreast of the prominence of prescription drug abuse in the area. Heightening awareness and making options for care readily available can be a positive step in helping to alleviate this crisis.