The Breast Defense

Brendan Skwire says health care reform shouldn't be about protecting a faceless and inhuman corporation's right to gouge people that have breast cancer. But that's what is happening in Washington D.C.

By Brendan Skwire
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Nov. 3, 2009

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Will Congress make it too expensive to purchase miracle drugs?

Photo by erix!, via Flickr.

One of the most disheartening things about the health care debate is the petty negotiating. All you hear is talk about the dollar amounts and the tradeoffs: very rarely do you hear people talking about the sick.

Because there's so much focus on the deal-making and making Big Insurance happy, some really shitty amendments are going into the final bill. One which passed into the House bill on Thursday, was the Eshoo-Barton Amendment. This legislation regulates how a certain class of medications called biologics -- which treat cancer, diabetes, MS, and a host of other life-threatening chronic diseases --  may be sold. Biologics are made from living organinisms and they are not cheap drugs. They can cost as much as 22 times as other medications.

Eve Gittelson, who has been one of the most vocal proponents of health care reform, writebiolog are the new "blockbuster" drugs for the pharmaceutical industry. Herceptin, for breast cancer, costs $48,000 a year, and many insurance companies won't cover it -- or people quickly hit their limits and must pay for it out-of-pocket or go without."

The Eshoo-Barton Amendment won't help. Jane Hamsher, a breast cancer survivor, reports the amendment will prohibit generic versions of the drugs for at least a dozen years -- and longer if the drug companies make slight tweaks to the formula over time to retain their "evergreening" rights. Hamsher says that ensures biologics will never become generics.

"Instead of the Waxman-Deal amendment that granted much more reasonable terms to biologic patent holders, Speaker Pelosi chose the Eshoo-Barton amendment," Hamsher writes. "And we could all be paying for that choice for the rest of our lives."

And that's a bad deal for Pennsylvania.

According to the National Cancer Institute's State Profiles database, Philadelphia reported more than 1,000 incidences of breast cancer each year between 2002-2006. As recently as 1997, the American Journal of Epidemiology found "a statistically significant and geographically broad cluster of breast cancer deaths in the New York City-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, metropolitan area, which has a 7.4 percent higher mortality rate than the rest of the Northeast." The state ranks sixth in the nation for breast cancer, and while death rates are falling, almost 300 women die from the disease every year in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, "breast cancer is the leading cancer among Pennsylvania women. It is the second leading cause of overall female cancer death in Pennsylvania." How many of those women do you think are also part of the 880,000 Pennsylvania adults who don't have health insurance?

It's not like there wasn't a competing amendment proposed by Henry Waxman, which would have sped up competition from generics. Evergreening sucks for people with chronic medical conditions, and as someone with asthma, I can tell you firsthand. The company that makes the inhaler that relaxes my lungs recently changed the propellant to be environmentally-friendly. The active ingredient hasn't changed, but that didn't stop them from declaring it a new product, unavailable as a much cheaper generic. I'm glad I have insurance through my employer, because otherwise I'd be paying $40 for a month's worth of breathing.

And that's what's so infuriating about what I'm seeing in DC. Forty-seven US representatives, including Mike Doyle and Tim Murphy of western Pennsylvania, voted against putting patients first: they're literally trying to balance sick people's need for medicine and treatements against a company's desire for profit. What kind of diseased soul do you have to have to even consider such a trade-off?

People who are very sick with breast cancer don't need to be lying in the hospital bed wondering "how am I going to pay for the drugs I need to stay alive?" People with MS don't need to wonder if the cost of their meds will go up because the company changed the formula from a pill to a time-release capsule. Health care reform shouldn't be about protecting a faceless and inhuman corporation's right to gouge people that have colorectal cancer. When people are sick, what you're supposed to do is your very best to make sure they can get better, or at the very least not hurt so much. You're not supposed to be thinking about how some company can make a buck off 'em.

As you might imagine, rallies against the Eshoo-Barton amendment are scheduled for the week ahead. None of our local representatives were on the committee that voted on the legislation, but with the bill expected to come up for for debate later this week, please take a moment to call them and let them know that the Eshoo-Barton amendment is unacceptable. Give Rep: Joe Sestak a call too: it was his daughter's brain tumor that got him into politics to begin with, and I am sure he'd like to hear from you that the House health care bill stands to gouge the very people he wants to protect. Hit up Sen. Arlen Specter, whose battle with cancer is ongoing. And call Sen. Bob Casey, who helped pass the Senate bill that does contain a public option.

Making sure people with cancer, MS, Crohn's disease, diabetes and other deadly or chronic conditions can afford the medicine that keeps them well should be a no-brainer. We should make sure our representatives vote with their interests in mind.

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Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. Bethsoda said... on Nov 3, 2009 at 02:36PM

“Come on Brendan - insurance isn't for sick people!”

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2. left coast said... on Nov 3, 2009 at 02:59PM

“it baffles me to think we have come to this! we have created a monster and now its eating us alive :{
thanks brendan for your well written insight. keeping us all active in the fight for good--up, up, and away with this damaged system!!!”

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3. Mariel Antonia said... on Nov 3, 2009 at 09:39PM

“Hey Brendan, it's nice to see YOUR work in the PW ;)”

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4. slinkerwink said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 01:54PM

“Here's the link to our petition at POP! against the Eshoo amendment, and for Senator Brown's amendment instead.”

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5. brendancalling said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 05:19PM

“the whole debate on health care is a perfect reflection of how debased our politics are.
You already knew the GOP woudl favor corporations over human beings, but now the Democrats' hypocrisy is right out in the open too.
it's kinda f'ed up that neither of the two parties actually represent their constituents.”

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6. Robert Zimmerman said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 03:25PM

“So, what makes Brendan think that substituting a centralized faceless bureaucracy for an insurance bureaucracy will get the results he seeks?

It won't.

None of these problems will be solved by a government takeover of the healthcare system. It will, however usher in a new era of Marxism and that is the real goal anyway, isn't it?”

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7. brendancalling said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 03:42PM

“"a new era of marxism". HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. everybody run, the commies are coming, the commies are coming!

yeah. either that or the return of the nazis, as the historically clueless teabaggers believe:

they do want to sap our precious bodily fluids after all.

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8. Anonymous said... on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:57AM

“when was the old era of marxism?

What do you get with capitalism.... only the rich get to be healthy.

Goldman sachs employees have access to the h1n1 vaccine but pregnant women or infants ( those not working fo GS ) don't. There is the end result of capitalism.


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9. Alex said... on Nov 7, 2009 at 11:13AM

“"they're literally trying to balance sick people's need for medicine and treatements against a company's desire for profit. What kind of diseased soul do you have to have to even consider such a trade-off?"

That's a balance that needs to exist. Drug companies do research to make a drug that they can sell. That research costs money. Lots and lots of money has to get spent before they can even enter clinical trials. Lots of drugs never make it that far.

Every successful drug has to pay for ten failures.

I get it- there are people worrying about whether or not they can afford a drug. But without those profits, the next drug doesn't get made. Knowing that there is a treatment that you can't afford must suck. But preventing the next treatment from ever coming to market might suck more.

Even countries that have national health care have for-profit drug companies.

We balance lives for cost every freakin' day.”

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10. Animal said... on Nov 9, 2009 at 04:21PM

“You are an animal and you will die one day...its not the end of the world I promise. If you don't want to get sick the best thing you can do is regulate what you put into your body. If you get cancer its likely due to poor which case there are plenty of humans out there with good ones to carry on the race. They used to call cancer "dying" Sorry to say but you are not a unique snowflake.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Nov 19, 2009 at 04:44AM

“Anonymous said:
"Goldman sachs employees have access to the h1n1 vaccine but pregnant women or infants ( those not working fo GS ) don't. There is the end result of capitalism. "
And the terrorist at Gitmo have access to the h1n1 vaccine but pregnant women or infants don't. Does that bother you anonymous?
There are plenty of countries that don't practice capitalism that you could move to. Cuba, Russia, China etc. Im sure they would love to have you. Soon enough the U.S. will be a socialist society so not to worry.


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