Proposition 61: Prescription drugs



Many Americans are angry about rising pharmaceutical prices and politicians have taken notice. Presidential candidates this year debated how to contain costs, and California lawmakers proposed fixes that never passed out of the statehouse. Drug prices are a big deal not only for consumers who are forced to pay more for prescriptions, but also for the state government, which spends billions on medication for public employees, retirees, prisoners and other people on public health plans.

What would it do?

Prop. 61 would cap the amount the state pays for prescription drugs—generally prohibiting the state from paying any more for drugs than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which pays the lowest prices in the nation.

What would it cost?

Prop. 61 could save the state some money, but it’s hard to say for certain. If drug makers responded to the measure by raising prices for the Department of Veterans Affairs, that would negate any potential savings to the state. Because the drug market reaction is unpredictable, the state’s legislative analysts concluded that the fiscal impact is unknown.

Why is it on the ballot?

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles—which runs pharmacies and health clinics around the world—paid to put Prop. 61 on the ballot.

What supporters say:

Prop. 61 will rein in soaring drug prices and fights back against pharmaceutical companies that reap profit from people’s illnesses.

What opponents say:

It would limit prices only for people in certain government health plans, but could make medication more expensive for others—especially veterans—if drug companies hike prices to make up the difference.




California State Association of Occupational Health Nurses

American Association of Retired Persons

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont)


California Chamber of Commerce

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of California

Show me the money:

More information:

  • Bernie Sanders, the most high-profile supporter of Prop. 61, says in this Op-Ed that it gives Californians a “chance to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry’s greed and spark a national movement.”
  • Would Prop. 61 cut drug costs? The answer, we found, is that nobody knows.
  • The backer of Prop. 61 has a long history of AIDS activism in California. Learn more about him in this profile.
  • If Prop. 61 passes in California, “the approach could quickly spread to other states,” The New York Times reported.
  • With the Legislature rejecting measures to control prescription drug prices, Prop. 61 is the move in play, says the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • A CALmatters analysis of state spending on prescription drug prices found that in some cases, government is responding to rising costs by making it harder for people to get medication.

Newspaper Editorials:

Opposing Prop. 61: Bakersfield Californian, Sacramento Bee, East Bay Times, Orange County Register, San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Times

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