Ohio voters demand affordable medicine

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The five-million-strong Ohio Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs is “fed up with legislative stonewalling.” An “Initiative Petition,” filed July 2, has lain in limbo with no action for over a month in Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery’s office.

An Aug. 6 coalition press release asks why the Attorney General is taking this long to “review” and certify the petition, whereas she approved a referendum petition for reactionary changes in Ohio’s Workmen’s Compensation Law in just five days.

The coalition is seeking approval of the petition in order to “circulate Initiative Petitions for a state law that will force the State Legislature to act.” Under Ohio state law a petition with 102,000 signatures forces the State Legislature to take up a bill. If they fail to act it will go to a ballot referendum in 2003.

The Ohio Prescription Drug Fair Pricing Act was introduced into the Ohio Legislature in January 2002, as HB-127 and SB-290. The bills were bottled up in committees which refused to allow either debate or votes on the bills.

The coalition alleges that the Attorney General is being unduly influenced by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobbying arm of the drug industry, which sent a letter to Montgomery asking her to withhold approval of the petition.

The Columbus Dispatch joined a number of Ohio’s largest newspapers editorializing for hearings on the bills. “The Democrats’ proposal would cover all Ohioans regardless of age. ... This plan ... has ... ideas worthy of exploration. Unfortunately ... the plan has been bottled up for nearly a year. Health care is too important for partisan bickering,” said the Dispatch. The Lorain Journal joined in with “The Ohio legislature’s inaction is shameful. Schedule hearings on this legislation ... and get it adopted.”

The Prescription Drug Act, when passed, will mandate the State of Ohio to negotiate discount prescription drug prices with drug manufacturers on behalf of 22 million Ohio citizens. About 2.2 million Ohioans have no prescription drug insurance coverage, and most of them will benefit from passage of the Act. The Ohio bills are patterned after the existing State of Maine law, which brought about an average 50 percent drop in prescription drug costs for Maine residents.

The Ohio Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs consists of 19 statewide organizations embracing five million people. These consist of Ohio AARP, Ohio Council of Churches, Ohio AFL-CIO and affiliated unions, the United Auto Workers, Ohio United Way, Ohio Nurses Association, Ohio Public Interest Campaign, among others.

All candidates for state office running in the November elections have been mailed support pledge cards, with many already being returned, including by some prominent Republicans.

The grass-roots base of the coalition is made up of 60 cities, eight County Commissions, agencies governing Senior Buildings, Fraternal Societies, as well as local bodies affiliated with state organizations.

An “Action Alert” has been put forth by the coalition urging all supporting organizations and individuals to call the Attorney General’s office. A Secretary taking phone calls pleaded with one caller to “please stop calling, we’ve already received billions of calls!”

The prescription drugs battle being waged in Ohio is part and parcel of a nation-wide struggle for real reform of and solution to our national health care crises. Other states are closely following events in Ohio. Leaders and activists in the Ohio movement are confident they will deliver a Prescription Drug Fair Pricing Act based on the Maine law, which will serve as a model for building winning coalitions in support of vital peoples’ needs.

The author can be reached at wallyk@ncweb.com