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Health Care Issues on State Ballots Get Mixed Reviews

Drug pricing and single-payer coverage issues fail, while medical marijuana and right-to-die measures pass

Dec. 2, 2016 (ACP) -- Though the race for the presidency dominated center stage in last month's election, voters across the country also had their say on a range of initiatives at the state level.

Key among state ballot measures that dealt with health care issues were those on:

Prescription Drug Pricing

In California, the pharmaceutical drug industry spent more than $100 million in fighting against Proposition 61, which promised to force certain health plans run by the state to pay no more for medications than is paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Reuters news service reported that the VA "receives the steepest discounts in the country."

Drug makers warned that the measure would mean higher medication costs for more Californians while helping only those specifically covered by the proposition (about 4.5 million people). Critics also claimed that drug makers could raise prices for the VA system as a whole and that the proposition wouldn't actually force drug makers to do anything and that they could simply refuse to lower prices.

Supporters, however, predicted that Californians would save billions. Its most high-profile supporter -- Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders -- urged voters in a Los Angeles Times commentary to "stand up to the pharmaceutical industry's greed and spark a national movement to end this price-gouging."

The measure was defeated. Ohio voters will consider a similar measure next November, according to Reuters. But, the national prospects for drug pricing reform remain unclear. The California defeat emboldens drug makers and may discourage lawmakers on the fence from taking a stand, according to a Politico report. However, the news agency reported that "many Washington insiders and health policy experts say they still expect strong drug pricing scrutiny from Congress and the White House in 2017."

Single-Payer Coverage

Colorado voters overwhelmingly turned down Amendment 69, which would have created a universal health insurance program in the state. A 10 percent payroll tax would have funded the ColoradoCare system.

As Politico reported, a slew of prominent Colorado Democrats -- including the state's governor and a U.S. senator -- refused to back the measure, and the Denver Post called it "an extremely dangerous and completely untested social experiment."

Labor unions and those on the far left were also divided over the measure. The Huffington Post reported that left-leaning critics didn't think a "single-payer" system would work on a statewide level.

A similar effort in Vermont -- promoted by the governor and legislators -- failed in 2011.

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana measures passed in Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota, and Montana voters made it easier for physicians to prescribe the drug. Now, almost 30 states have medical marijuana laws, according to The Washington Post.

Physician-Assisted Suicide

Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that allows terminally ill patients in certain cases to obtain the drug Asecobarbital to end their lives.

"Patients would have to be diagnosed by two separate doctors and be deemed mentally competent," according to a report by Time magazine. "They would also have to self-administer the medication. The law would create immunity for physicians who prescribe life-ending medicine."

Oregon, Washington, California, Vermont and Montana allow similar practices.

ACP does not support legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

Tobacco Taxes

California voters boosted tobacco taxes, but voters in Colorado, North Dakota and Missouri rejected ballot measures that would have raised tobacco taxes.

Firearms Regulations

Voters in Washington made it legal to temporarily ban access to firearms for people with mental illness or behavior that indicates they may harm themselves or others.

Two states -- California and Nevada -- expanded background checks for firearms or ammunition purchases, according to The Encyclopedia of American Politics. However, the Portland Press Herald reported that voters in Maine rejected a measure that would have extended background checks to private sales of firearms.

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