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Obscured numbers make it difficult to analyze the potential effects of the California Drug Price Relief Act

A customer picks up a prescription at Hi-School Pharmacy store in Milwaukie, Oregon.
A customer picks up a prescription at Hi-School Pharmacy store in Milwaukie, Oregon.
Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

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The high cost of prescription drugs is a complex problem that could have a number of solutions, but a basic lack of transparency about the economic models that lead to the prices has left lawmakers and voters unsure of the best paths forward.

One proposal comes from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a November ballot measure called the California Drug Price Relief Act. It would fix the prices the State pays for their bulk drug purchases to what the Department of Veterans Affairs pays for their bulk purchases, a rate that the office usually negotiates to 20-40% below market.

Reinforcing California’s role as a national trend-setter, a coalition of pharmaceutical manufacturers have already spent over $50 million dollars to oppose the measure.

But in trying to figure out whether this law would bring down, rise, or stagnate drug prices, policy researchers and reporters have been stymied by trade secret laws or private contracts that can even tell them existing prices.


Pauline Bartolone, reporter, CALmatters, a nonprofit publication focused on issues that affect Californians. She’s been following this story

Michael Weinstein,  author of the measure and president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which seeks to provide “cutting-edge” medicine and advocacy regardless of clients’ ability to pay

Kathy Fairbanks, with Californians Against the the Rx Measure