Pharma Can Buy Time. I Can’t.


I testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health last week. It was a big deal for me. As I told my brother, I want my niece to know that we can speak to the powers that be – even individuals like me, without any group or organization to back me up. I want her to know that our voices can still be heard in America.

I testified about what it is like to have stage 4 cancer, and to fear bankruptcy as much as cancer due to our health system and the lack of drug pricing regulation. I also said that I support a Medicare proposal to evaluate ways to lower drug costs. It would reduce financial incentives that could encourage doctors to use more expensive drugs, while trying several different approaches that would improve quality of care and potentially cut drug costs for taxpayers and patients.

I felt like most of the Representatives had already made up their minds.  Probably not due to the actual proposal, but to the pressures placed by groups that would lose money if the so-called Medicare Part B Demo is launched. I joked before I testified that I might ask, “Could anyone that doesn’t receive any money from the pharmaceutical industry, raise their hands,” and that I would probably be the only one with a hand raised in the room.

Turns out my joke wasn’t that far off-base. Imagine my surprise when Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) pointed out that two of the five witnesses had several pages of identical testimony – identical down to the highlights. What that says to me is that the pharmaceutical industry lobbyists are so confident of their power that they can be sloppy.

I do not have that luxury. I have limited time; no one knows how much with stage 4 cancer and certainly limited means. My friends jokingly call me “Dona Quixote.” But I feel urgency around the issue, and I do appreciate Representative Peter Welch for pointing out this urgency.

I know I cannot be alone. Other patients are slowly being bled dry by the cost of our life saving drugs.

While the Medicare Part B Demo will not solve the problem of high prescription drug spending, it’s at least a thoughtful step in the right direction. I hope to keep pushing and reminding everyone of the urgency of this issue. Americans recognize that the cost of drugs is not sustainable but no one knows what to do. And so far, no one knows how to overcome the money and power being mobilized by the drug companies to keep their profits high, even as patients go bankrupt.

While the Medicare Part B demo may not be perfect, it’s at least a step in the right direction when everyone else seems to be more interested in standing still.

Let’s proceed.

Heather Block served as a witness for the Energy and Commerce’s Health committee hearing on the proposed Medicare Part B Payment Demonstration Project on May 17, 2016.

Morning Consult