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AHF Pushes SF Drug Pricing Measure

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Friday May 31, 2013

The Los Angeles-based AHF is sponsoring a ballot measure this fall to encourage San Francisco officials to call for cheaper drug prices.

According to the measure's title and summary, San Francisco purchases prescription drugs for city-run medical programs and spends over $23 million a year on prescription drugs. That includes about $3.5 million annually for antiretroviral medications for inpatients with HIV and related conditions.

In a May 28 email exchange, Yeghiayan said, "We are looking forward to the vote in November."

AHF needed to gather 9,703 valid signatures to get the measure on the fall ballot and started the collection last November. In a statement dated March 1, the agency said the measure had qualified as it gathered 17,800 signatures from San Francisco residents.

"We are thrilled to have formal notice that our prescription drug purchasing initiative has qualified for the ballot," AHF President Michael Weinstein was quoted as saying. "As government programs pay for the vast majority of drug purchases in this country, we believe a state as vast and powerful as California - and a city and county like San Francisco - can and should use its clout to stand up to and rein in runaway pricing of drug companies. That is why we are now taking this issue directly to the people of San Francisco in November through this ballot measure."

The press release also quoted Board of Supervisors President David Chiu as "look(ing) forward" to helping pass the measure.

"Prescription drug costs place an enormous - and growing - financial burden not only on our residents and employers, but also on local governments who pay for the safety net that protects the most vulnerable within our community," stated Chiu.

Local AIDS-related nonprofit officials, however, expressed some uncertainty about the proposed ballot measure.

Courtney Mulhern-Pearson, director of state and local affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said, "We support overall the goal of lowering drug pricing," but "we don't think this proposal is the most effective way to get that done."

She said city officials "just don't have enough purchasing power, particularly when it comes to HIV."

Brian Basinger, director of the AIDS Housing Alliance-San Francisco, said, "Like all things, the devil is in the details," and he'd want to "vet the language with a skeptical eye."

However, he said, "In general, I'm supportive of the concept that I think that we need to be looking at how we can create greater efficiencies in the system... The price inflation in HIV drugs is atrocious and is a burden to the public health care system, and it takes away from critical needs like housing and other services that folks need."

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