(TNS) -- In a surprising last-minute move, the Bay Area lawmaker carrying legislation to increase the "transparency" of prescription drug costs in California on Tuesday pulled his bill off the Assembly Health Committee agenda, saying he didn't have the votes.
But Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, promised to be back "because this issue will not go away."
Assembly Bill 463, called the Pharmaceutical Cost Transparency Act of 2016, seeks to require public reporting of "select information" about the most expensive drugs -- those priced at $10,000 or more -- and the real costs for medications and treatments.
It has wide-ranging support from labor, business, local governments and public health leaders. But it's strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry.
On Tuesday, Chiu needed 10 votes to move the bill forward, but by the end of the meeting, figured out he did not have that many. A previous version of the bill, introduced last year by Chiu, did not garner enough support from the same committee to put it up for a vote.
But since then, the backlash against high-cost prescription drugs has surfaced as a key issue on the U.S. presidential campaign trail -- and a related effort is now heading to the state's November ballot.
That measure, the California Drug Price Relief Act, would require state programs to pay no more for prescription drugs than prices negotiated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which negotiates for lower prices for millions of vets in the U.S.
The Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group that represents at least 50 pharmaceutical companies in the country, has already poured $38 million into the campaign to fight the measure. The trade group also opposed AB 463.
Priscilla VanderVeer, spokeswoman for PhRMA, said Chiu's legislation unfairly singles out the biopharmaceutical industry "when in fact, there are a variety of stakeholders involved in determining what consumers ultimately have to pay for a medicine -- insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, wholesalers and government agencies."
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition, agreed with Chiu that the fight is far from over.
"Public anger is building on the issue of prescription drug costs -- whether it is hiking the prices for decades-old drugs, or the extreme costs of some new medications. More and more patients and payers are questioning these drug costs, and politicians will ignore that public anger at their peril."
Chiu has consistently said insurers and patients are grappling with six-figure price tags for medications that treat complex chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and Hepatitis C. The prices for these drugs, he has said, are a significant burden on the health care system and are ultimately unsustainable in the long-term
Among the breakthrough drugs fueling public outrage are the $1,000-per-pill Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a regular course of treatment, and Harvoni, which costs $94,500. Both drugs are manufactured by Foster City-based Gilead Sciences.
But the costs of some decades-old drugs have been inflated as well. Last September, the price of the 62-year-old drug Daraprim to treat a parasitic infection as well as HIV/AIDS, was increased 5,000 percent, from $13.50 to $750 per pill.
In December, the former chief executive of that drug company was arrested in New York and charged with securities fraud and conspiracy related to another company he previously ran.
©2016 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.