Prop. D could help S.F. battle drug price increases

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Voters have a chance this November to urge San Francisco to help make prescription drugs more affordable, especially for vulnerable populations who are taking life-saving medications.

Proposition D on the Nov. 5 ballot would urge city lawmakers to “use all available opportunities to reduce the City’s cost of prescription drugs,” as is stated by the measure itself. In addition, it would urge state and federal representatives to sponsor legislation “to reduce drug prices paid by the government.”

Declarations of policy that are passed by voters are a tricky bit of governing. On one hand, it could urge policymakers to change something in the bureaucratic machine based on the will of the voters. On the other hand, policymakers and officials are nearly free to ignore the statements, rendering them useless.

But the problems Prop. D is attempting to tackle are complex, and the least the measure does is set San Francisco policy about how it could work to reduce prescription drug prices.

The City spends more than $23 million on prescription drugs in its hospitals, jails and health centers. Some of these drugs are needed by residents, including HIV/AIDS, diabetes and heart medications. It is clear that many of these medications are needed to keep people alive, but there are numerous stories about people having to choose between their prescriptions and other necessities such as food.

If voters approve Prop. D, it would make it city policy that San Francisco work to keep the cost of these medications affordable, including by negotiating directly with drug manufacturers.

The policy is vague as to the exact mechanisms for moving forward, and that is one of its strengths. With the backing of all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors, it is clear that there is support for reducing prescription drug prices. This policy declaration, rather than prescribing a cure, allows lawmakers to move forward with a diagnosis of the nuanced issue and solve it in a way that makes sense for all parties involved.

Prop. D is more than a feel-good resolution. Voting “yes” will help set The City on a path toward providing affordable medications for everyone.

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