Ohio Court Gives Drug Price Ballot Measure a Chance

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By Bebe Raupe

June 3 — Supporters of an Ohio drug pricing ballot initiative may be able to get the measure before voters in November, thanks to a court ruling denying motions to block the effort ( Ohio Mfrs. Ass'n. v. Ohioans for Drug Price Relief Act, Ohio, No. 2016-0313, motions denied 6/2/16 ).

The Ohio Supreme Court June 2 rebuffed three procedural motions by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and other plaintiffs that would have extended litigation challenging the proposal to the point that backers wouldn’t have sufficient time to collect the 92,000 additional signatures needed to get it on the ballot.

According to Ohioans for Fair Drug Prices, the next round of signature collection will begin June 5 and run through July 6.

If approved by voters, the act would amend Ohio law to require state programs to pay the same, or less, for prescription medications as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. California voters will vote on a similar measure this fall (14 PLIR 815, 6/3/16).

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is sponsoring the measure, said in a prepared statement that the ruling is “a sign that the Court is not accepting PhRMA’s efforts to delay reaching a decision on the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act.”

The AHF said the court still has to rule on whether Ohioans for Fair Drug Prices will be granted an additional month beyond the July 6 signature-gathering deadline to compensate for a month-long delay in forwarding the issue on to the Ohio General Assembly.

The coalition backing the Ohio initiative submitted petitions to Ohio Secretary of State John Husted (R) in early January but, in an unprecedented move, he didn't forward it on to the legislature until February, after returning signature petitions for second review by all 88 county boards of election.

Ruling Not on Merits

PhRMA spokeswoman Priscilla VanderVeer told Bloomberg BNA that the court’s action addresses procedural motions. “It was not a ruling on the merits of the legal action,” she said June 3.

The court did not dismiss any of the substantive arguments still pending, VanderVeer said, including circulator address problems and signature irregularities.

On Feb. 29, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and PhRMA filed suit with the state's high court, challenging the petition initiative (14 PLIR 338, 3/4/16).

The lawsuit asks the Ohio Supreme Court for an order invalidating “part-petitions.” It alleges that certain part-petitions were circulated by individuals who listed a false permanent address; that part-petitions were altered by someone unauthorized to do so; that the petition effort employed ineligible felon circulators; and that over 1,400 part-petitions contain false circulator statements.

Jenny Camper, a spokeswoman for the three organizations, told Bloomberg BNA June 3, “We don’t know yet if the drug purchasing proposal will garner enough valid signatures to make the November 2016 ballot.

“What we do know is that tens of thousands of signatures were invalidated after a review of the issue’s first-round submission. The Supreme Court has not ruled on the merits of a pending legal action pointing to evidence of legal violations by paid circulators.”

Camper said that in California more than 60 groups—including state and national veterans’ organizations, patient advocates, business and labor groups and the California Medical Association—have expressed opposition to a drug pricing measure on that state's ballot.

A similar coalition will probably form in Ohio if the drug pricing measure makes it onto the ballot, Camper said, adding, “The proposal is unworkable, offers zero implementation guidance and would create a long-term quagmire of bureaucratic red tape and litigation.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bebe Raupe in Cincinnati at braupe@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

For More Information

The court's ruling is available at http://src.bna.com/fzG.