Bernie Sanders In Town Today to Stump for Proposition 61, Which Aims to Lower Drug Prices

Hey, all you Berniacs! Lovable socialist Bernie Sanders is in Los Angeles today — not to foment revolution, nor to stump for Hillary Clinton nor to bask in our pleasant autumnal weather. Rather, the curmudgeonly senator from Vermont is here to stump for Proposition 61, which aims to lower the prices the state pays for prescription drugs.

Sanders will appear at a rally for Proposition 61, which kicks off at 4:30 p.m. today at the American Federation of Musicians Hall in Hollywood.

You may have seen Sanders in Proposition 61 TV ads, which are currently in rotation. 

"It will be great for the taxpayers of California," he says of the ballot measure, his hands waving about in trademark fashion, "and it will be a real blow against this greedy industry that will reverberate all over America."

The point of Proposition 61 is to stick it to those dastardly pharmaceutical companies. As for its positive impacts, those are far less certain.

The state of California purchases around $4 billion in prescription drugs every year, mostly through Medi-Cal and its public employee retirement system, though also through the University of California and the state prison system. Proposition 61 would prohibit the state from paying any more than the federal government's Department of Veteran Affairs (or the VA) pays for prescription drugs. And the VA, by law, gets a special discount on prescription drugs of around 24 percent. 

Roger Salazar, spokesman for Proposition 61, says the measure would save taxpayers something like $1 billion a year. 

"Our goal," he says, "is to start to put downward pressure on drug prices, which ... are artificially inflated by the drug industry. Our belief is that this will lead to better drug prices overall."

Others aren't so sure. The State's Legislative Analyst's office, in its independent analysis, warned that the overall effect of Proposition 61 is "highly uncertain." We don't actually know what the VA pays for their prescription drugs. Nor do we know how the pharmaceutical industry will react to such a measure. Maybe they'll raise the prices they charge the VA. Or maybe they'll raise the prices they charge for everyone else to cover their losses.

Salazar isn't worried about either of those two possibilities. 

"If they try to punish California voters for having the audacity to try to do something about drug prices, I can’t help but think the Legislature or the Congress would [not] see that as a kind gesture," he says, which ... isn't exactly reassuring.

"Something as complicated as drug pricing needs a thoughtful approach," says Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the No on 61 campaign. "Something like this shouldn't be done through a ballot measure."

Proposition 61 is funded almost entirely by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (or AHF), the controversial nonprofit healthcare provider, which has spent more than $14 million on the measure.

Of course, drug companies have spent way more. The No on 61 campaign has received a staggering $86.9 million, much of it from pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, Merck and Johnson & Johnson, who have given more than $7 million apiece to the cause. 

AHF also is funding Proposition 60, which would mandate that all pornographic film performers wear condoms while onscreen. (So far, AHF has spent $4 million on that one.) And it's funding the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (to which AHF has donated around $1 million), which seeks to limit development in Los Angeles and which will appear on the March City of L.A. ballot. 

Michael Weinstein, president of AHF, will appear with Bernie Sanders at the American Federation of Musicians Hall.


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