Presidential races

Sanders backs California prescription drug measure


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is injecting himself in one of the most costly political battles of the year, appearing in a new television advertisement on behalf of a ballot measure proponents say will cut the cost of prescription drugs.

{mosads}”The time is long overdue for the American people to stand up to the greed of the pharmaceutical industry,” Sanders says in the 30-second spot. “People are dying because they can’t afford medicine.”

Proposition 61, dubbed the California Drug Price Relief Act, would prohibit state agencies from purchasing prescription drugs for any more than the Department of Veterans Affairs pays. Proponents hope the initiative would lower drug costs for Californians who get prescription drugs through state programs like Medicaid.

Opponents say the measure could lead to price increases. The Veterans Administration does not publicize the amount it pays for prescription drugs, a cost hammered out in delicate negotiations with pharmaceutical companies.

The initiative pits well-heeled industries against each other over highly-profitable products — a recipe for an expensive contest. Together, the two sides have already collected more than $100 million for what is likely to be the second-most expensive political race of the season, after the presidential contest.

Supporters led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the California Nurses Association PAC have raised more than $14 million to back the measure. A national nurses’ union was one of Sanders’s top backers in his upstart presidential bid.

Pharmaceutical companies opposed to Proposition 61 have poured more than $86 million into the campaign to beat it back. Corporations such as Merck, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have each contributed $7.2 million to the cause.

“Proposition 61 is a very, very important step forward,” Sanders says in the 30-second spot. “It will be great for the taxpayers of California and it will be a real blow against this greedy industry that will reverberate all over America.”

A similar measure qualified for the 2017 ballot in Ohio this week. 

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