Poll shows 66 percent of California voters favor drug price initiative

(Reuters) - An initiative on California’s November ballot aimed at reining in prescription drug prices is favored by 66 percent of state voters, according to a new poll released on Thursday.

The California Drug Price Relief Act, also known as Proposition 61, seeks to restrict state-run health programs from paying more for medications than prices paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is billed about 25 percent less for drugs than other government agencies.

The poll of more than 1,900 registered voters conducted by the University of Southern California (USC) and the Los Angeles Times found that 23 percent opposed the measure.

It was conducted in early September, amid a surge in public scrutiny of price hikes for Mylan NV’s EpiPens, the emergency allergy injections.

Mylan is the latest company to be caught up in the growing outrage at big drug price hikes. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc and Turing Pharmaceuticals have both been publicly criticized for price increases.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senate and House members, including Arizona Senator John McCain, introduced legislation that would force drug makers to justify to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources price increases of more than 10 percent.

Opponents of the California measure, led by pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer Inc, Merck & Co Inc and Amgen Inc, have raised $87.5 million to try to stop the measure. Proponents, led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the AARP, have raised around $10 million.

The Yes on Prop 61 coalition estimates that its plan would save California taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars and “ultimately force the drug companies to moderate price increases across the board.”

But opponents, which include some labor unions and patient advocate groups like the California Chronic Care Coalition and the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, worry that a new price system could result in a long bureaucratic process, limiting patient access to vitally needed medications.

Most participants in California’s low-income health program, known as Medi-Cal, are covered through private insurance plans that are paid a fixed fee for individual enrollees.

That means that Proposition 61, if approved, would apply to around 4.5 million Californians, including Medi-Cal fee-for-service, state employees, university teachers and prisoners. It would not affect private employer-sponsored insurance plans, Medicare, or insurance sold on Obamacare exchanges.

Reporting By Deena Beasley; Editing by Diane Craft and Bill Rigby