By Diane Abbitt
You would think that patients, HIV/AIDS and LBGTQ activists would support a proposition that claims to lower prescription drug prices. Yet Proposition 61 on the November ballot is opposed by groups representing physicians, patient advocates and many others because the measure would actually increase state prescription drug costs and make it harder for millions of patients to get the medicines they need.
The measure would impose unworkable contracting requirements for some state prescription drug purchases based on prices paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Prominent advocates in the HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ community have opposed Prop. 61, including Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS Quilt; Hilary Rosen, former chair of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); Neil Giuliano, former CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and former national CEO of GLAAD; and Peter Staley, AIDS activist and founder of Treatment AIDS Group, among many others.
Prop. 61 is authored and almost exclusively bankrolled by Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation of Los Angeles (AHF). Weinstein is a highly controversial figure in the LGBTQ community because of the positions he’s taken on a number of issues, including referring to the HIV prevention drug PrEP as a “party drug.”
AHF generated $800 million in 2015 selling prescription drugs. Interesting to note, while drafting Prop 61, Mr. Weinstein specifically exempted AHF from compliance with its provisions.
Weinstein claims his goal is to lower prescription drug prices for the state of California. Yet his organization is currently suing the state of California so it can charge the state more for prescription drugs. His lawsuit is blocking a law that would save taxpayers $10 million a year. In addition, in four separate government audits, Weinstein’s organization was accused of overcharging Los Angeles County by more than $6 million.
Prop. 61 has some significant negative consequences.
It excludes 88 percent of Californians and only applies to 12 percent of residents, including some state government employees and prisoners. For the few programs where Prop. 61 would apply, it would be a disaster.
The independent, non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) found that Medi-Cal’s fee-for-service — currently serving 3 million people, the largest state health care program covered by Prop. 61 — could be hit with higher, not lower, prescription costs, negatively impacting those with HIV/AIDS in the Medi-Cal program.
In fact, Project Inform, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, all groups serving people living with and affected by HIV and hepatitis C, are officially neutral on the ballot measure, but have raised similar concerns about Prop. 61. They warn that Prop. 61 “could actually increase the price of drugs in a number of public programs, including AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), Medi-Cal, the VA, and California’s prison system.”
If what the LAO suggests happens, patients would also have to go through a cumbersome and bureaucratic prior approval process before receiving certain medications, delaying or even preventing patients from receiving the medicines they need.
That’s why the California Medical Association, representing 41,000 doctors in the state, opposes Prop. 61. They said Prop. 61 would “interfere with patient access to the medicines they need.”
Similarly, CalPERS, which provides retirement and health care benefits to California state government workers, raised red flags, citing, “decreased access to certain drugs for CalPERS members” and “increased administrative costs” under Prop. 61.
And the Department of Veterans Affairs warns that Prop. 61 could increase costs to the VA by $3.8 billion annually which would ultimately increase costs or reduce care for our nation’s veterans.
With so many active duty and retired military in our region, Prop. 61 would be bad news for San Diego. That’s why the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)’s Department of California and more than other 20 veterans groups in California all oppose Prop 61.
We are all concerned about health care costs, including drug prices, but Prop. 61 isn’t the solution.
—Diane Abbitt is the first co-chair of AIDS Project Los Angeles and former president of Equality California.