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Drug Price Issue Overwhelmingly Rejected By Ohio Voters

No on Issue 2 Campaign Manager Curt Steiner (left) and Yes on Issue 2 spokesperson Dennis Willard (right) speak Tuesday night after Issue 2 was strongly defeated by Ohio voters.
Andy Chow
Ohio Public Radio
No on Issue 2 Campaign Manager Curt Steiner (left) and Yes on Issue 2 spokesperson Dennis Willard (right) speak Tuesday night after Issue 2 was strongly defeated by Ohio voters.

The debate over Issue 2 stirred a fight over the rising cost of drug prices and if the proposal would actually bring those prices down. It was a fight that ultimately became the most expensive ballot campaign in Ohio history. But all of that money and debate will not bring any significant change for the drug industry.

The proposal lost by difference of whopping 79 percent to 21 percent.

The major players behind the "No on Issue 2" campaign say they had a tough hill to climb. They had to overcome what seemed like a simple sell — people want to pay less for prescription drugs.

But Dale Butland, spokesperson for the opposition, said they were able to turn the tide because they argued it would actually increase costs for two-thirds of Ohioans and they got dozens of respected groups to come out against the measure. That includes doctors, nurses and pharmacy associations.

“People trust these organizations and if every expert who had looked at this or virtually every expert who looked at this said it was a bad idea I think that was enough for most voters in Ohio,” he said.

On the other side, supporters of Issue 2 believe there’s an easy explanation to how Butland and the “No” side won — money. Reports show that the opposition, backed by big drug companies, raised more than $70 million to fight the measure that would force the state to buy drugs at a discounted rate.

Yes on Issue 2 spokesperson Dennis Willard said that kind of money bought up ads and other campaign materials that caused confusion.

“The money was a tremendous fog for voters unfortunately and keep in mind that $75 million are all from excess profits these drug companies make from overcharging and price gouging patients,” Williard said.

“Confusing” seemed to be the word used over and over again to describe Issue 2. Some even suggested that when voters are confused about a ballot issue they tend to vote no. But Butland strongly rejects that claim.

“I think that’s insulting. Ohio voters are perfectly capable of understanding the issues and making up their own mind,” Butland said.

Nearly 80 percent of the voters rejected Issue 2. Curt Steiner, managed the opposition’s campaign, he said that overwhelming win tells him that voters knew what they were doing when they headed to the polls.

“When you have numbers like this there’s not a whole lot of confusion," Steiner said. "Clearly very much we could see in our own internal polling that most people that were voting no were definitely voting no which is a clear sign that they understood what was on the ballot and they didn’t like it.”

Willard counters that the historic amount of money raised against Issue 2 was used to convince people to, in his words, vote against their own interests.

“Tonight solves nothing when it comes to the out of control drug prices that people have to deal with every day of their lives, that’s what this was about we want to lower drug prices. So we’re going to take this to other states and we will eventually be victorious,” Williard said.

This is the second failure for the Drug Price Relief Act. Last year drug companies spent more than $100 million in California, where the proposal lost by six points.

But Willard said the idea isn’t dead – supporters will try to pass it next in South Dakota and Washington, D.C. But with the lopsided results in Ohio, does he think this is a big win for drug companies?

“No, no I think the drug companies are in hiding," he said. "They stayed in the shadows during this entire campaign. They created a phony corporation so they didn’t even have to put their company’s name on the checks that they wrote to fund this effort.”

Butland and Steiner said this wasn’t about the drug companies, but instead was about their claim that people would see their health care costs go up.

Steiner added that the sponsor of the issue, Michael Weinstein, founder of the Aids Healthcare Foundation, never gathered input from Ohio’s medical groups and other organizations before putting the language on the ballot.

“Everybody involved in the health care system wants to participate in the decisions that are made in that health care system and they probably should be we’ve seen what happens in Washington we’ve seen what happens in other places when the people that know the most aren’t involved in the decisions,” Steiner said.

Issue 2 would have been an initiated statute, creating state law. The last initiated statute to pass was the indoor smoking ban in 2006.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.