Rising drug prices inflict pain; Aetna bolts ObamaCare

On behalf of The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, welcome to The Take, your opinion-politics newsletter. Please sign up for it here.

Our health care system’s ailments are painfully evident. Aetna is leaving “Obamacare,” and we will remain in the dark on reasons why drug prices rise. On other topics, Ronald Brownstein offers an insightful piece about proposals to slash tuition. It might backfire. And we welcome Dean Cortopassi to talk about his Proposition 53.

Take two aspirin

On Monday, Aetna pulled out of “Obamacare” insurance exchanges in 11 of the 15 states where it sells coverage, after similar defections by UnitedHealth Group and Humana Inc.

On Tuesday, CBS News reported that the price of EpiPens, the auto-injector that can save the lives of people suffering from severe allergy attacks, has risen by more than 480 percent since 2009, though the cost of the drug inside EpiPens costs only a couple bucks.

In Sacramento and other states, Mylan N.V., the company that dominates the EpiPen market, is sponsoring legislation this year to significantly expand its market. Assemblyman Evan Low’s AB 1386 zipped through the Legislature without opposition.

It would permit colleges, churches, summer camps, arenas, restaurants, parks and other places where people come into contact with life-threatening allergens to stock epinephrine auto-injectors, and grant immunity to Good Samaritans who use the devices to help people in anaphylaxis.

Nice idea. But why a 480 percent price increase? Who knows? On Wednesday, Senate Health Committee Chairman Ed Hernandez dropped his Senate Bill 1010 to force transparency on drug makers that jack up their prices, after the Assembly turned it to mush amid intense lobbying by drug companies.

Take a number: $950 million

Sacramento Regional Transit leaders don’t want to contemplate rejection of Measure B, the half-cent sales tax for transportation on the November ballot. It’d generate $950 million over 30 years to spruce up stations, replace light-rail cars and pay for operations. RT also is aggressively seeking new revenue sources. Board Chairman Jay Schenirer and new General Manager Henry Li told us Wednesday that it has solicited offers for a contract for ads on light-rail trains and stations, and is working with a broker to sell or develop 17 surplus parcels. Both ideas make sense. Why it has taken so long is another question. Nor is it clear why RT cannot find a way to move passengers from downtown to Sacramento International Airport and get them home. Some day. — Foon Rhee @foonrhee

Our take

Editorial: Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s SB 1234 ought to attract support from conservatives who seek to limit the size of government and appreciate the limitations of Social Security. The bill would help wage earners help themselves.

Editorial: Aetna pulled out of Obamacare insurance exchanges in 11 of the 15 states where it sells coverage, after similar defections by UnitedHealth Group and Humana Inc. The decision doesn’t directly affect Covered California, yet, but the implications are ominous. The Charlotte Observer notes that Aetna enjoyed a record $6.5 billion in government program premiums in the first quarter. In other words, doing business with the government isn’t so bad after all.

Katie Valenzuela Garcia’s Soapbox: Sen. Connie Leyva’s SB 1000 could provide environmental justice in planning and housing.

Jeff Merwin’s Soapbox: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s overtime bill is bad for farmworkers and for farmers.

Joe Mathews: Everyone, stop bragging so much, or, as Joe’s kid might say, don’t be a victoriotic. But that might be an example of Joe bragging.

Their take

Santa Rosa Press Democrat: Should Santa Rosa aspire to be the “New Age Amsterdam,” a Wine Country cousin to the Dutch city known for its permissive attitude about marijuana?

San Jose Mercury News: The ship bearing Harvey Milk’s name is expected to go into service on Treasure Island in 2021. May it proudly help further the U.S. Navy’s mission of maintaining freedom of the seas.

Raleigh News & Observer: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory may see disrupting the November election as his last chance of winning it. But he is not simply a candidate. He is the governor of all his state’s people and should put the voters’ greater interest before his own.

Biloxi Sun Herald, Miss.: One of the great lessons of Katrina was the breathtaking generosity of total strangers. And we will pay that generosity forward.

Ronald Brownstein, National Journal: Tuition-free public college could compound the increasing stratification of post-secondary education into a two-tier system that slots most low-income and minority students into the least-selective institutions.

Syndicates take

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Donald Trump hires a bomb-thrower in Steve Bannon.

Leonard Pitts Jr.: As racial martyrs go, you could hardly do worse than Sylville Smith.

Cortopassi’s take

Having plowed $4 million into getting Proposition 53 on the November ballot, wealthy Stockton farmer Dean Cortopassi says critics are all wet when they say it’s all about stopping the Delta tunnels.

Instead, he told our editorial board on Wednesday, the initiative is all about stopping the “tsunami” of debt that will drown California families. Proposition 53 would create a constitutional amendment requiring a statewide vote on state public works projects of $2 billion or more that are financed with revenue bonds.

Cortopassi said his proposal would shine light on what he calls “cockroach” debt. Asked what recent projects or current projects would have been covered, Cortopassi and his people cited the new Bay Bridge (after its cost topped $2 billion), high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels plan backed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Cortopassi insisted that if he wanted to kill the tunnel project, he would have gone after it directly.

We’ll endorse on this and the other ballot measures in weeks to come. – Foon Rhee @foonrhee