Capitol Alert

California lawmaker wants to rein in drug costs by exposing the price

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, during session in the Senate chambers in 2013. Hernandez, the author of last year’s SB 1010, has introduced SB 17.
State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, during session in the Senate chambers in 2013. Hernandez, the author of last year’s SB 1010, has introduced SB 17. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Months before voters went to the polls on Proposition 61, last November’s unsuccessful drug-pricing measure, a California lawmaker pulled the plug on heavily lobbied legislation meant to deter significant increases in drug prices.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Asuza, shelved Senate Bill 1010 last August after the Assembly Appropriations Committee imposed amendments supporters said undermined the bill’s purpose.

Now Hernandez is back with Senate Bill 17, a measure that remained in spot form Tuesday. Hernandez, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, will be joined by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, wealthy Democratic activist Tom Steyer, and others at a 10 a.m. Capitol press conference to tout the legislation which, like SB 1010, is meant to improve drug-pricing transparency.

Supporters say drug prices have only increased. Gov. Jerry Brown weighed in on the issue himself last year, issuing a signing statement on a bill backed by Mylan Inc., the maker of the EpiPen brand of epinephrine autoinjectors, that allows more businesses and colleges to stock the devices. “State government cannot stop unconscionable price increases but it can shed light on such rapacious corporate behavior,” he wrote.

Mylan was among the dozens of drug makers and industry associations that worked against SB 1010. Opponents said such proposals fail to recognize that a drug’s shelf price often does not reflect the actual cost paid because of various purchase discounts, and that the bill would have led to a stockpiling of drugs.

The industry’s California winning streak continued into the fall, with the defeat of Proposition 61. The measure would have limited the prices of drugs purchased by California agencies to those paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But victory didn’t come easy: opponents outspent supporters by more than 5-to-1 and the yes campaign got within shouting distance of an upset thanks to the backing of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and others.

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Dan Smith and Alexei Koseff of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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