Legislature shouldn’t put hurdles in way of cancer treatments

By Sara Radcliffe

Sacramento Bee
In his recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama challenged the nation to redouble our efforts in the war on cancer, calling for a new “moon shot” to find cures for this deadly disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and nearly 600,000 will die. By 2050, one in three women and half of men will be diagnosed with a cancer at some point during their lives, according to the National Cancer Institute.

We are making great progress. New medical research and innovation are showing tremendous promise in certain types of cancers. If we are to find a cure, it will take more than just wishful thinking.

We will need more federal money for research and more sharing of information in the scientific and medical communities. We’ll need more partnerships among researchers, patient groups and government regulators to ensure effective medicines get to patients as quickly as possible.

Our state is already a leader in the global fight against cancer. California companies have 366 cancer medicines under development or in the research pipeline. Policymakers have an important role to play by protecting biomedical research and innovation.

Indeed, state lawmakers must be wary of misguided proposals that claim to provide transparency, yet in reality only create hurdles to bringing drugs to market, slowing or reversing years of progress.

To ensure patients have access to these medicines, we must also curb practices by insurance companies.

As demonstrated by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, restrictive formulary and pricing schemes devised by health insurers are being used to dissuade sick people from choosing their plans.

Insurers are also shifting out-of-pocket costs onto patients who already pay monthly premiums for coverage. As more than 100 patient groups recently wrote to federal officials, we must prevent these potentially discriminatory practices and ensure that policies put the needs of patients first.

At the same time, California can be a leader in protecting patient access by making sure insurance companies provide the fullest coverage of lifesaving medicines, which in the long run lower costs by reducing hospital stays and surgeries.

By changing the way we think about the value of new cancer drugs and by making smart public policy decisions, we can all work to help make the moon shot a reality. Steps taken in Sacramento can have global implications in the fight against cancer. Let’s make sure the right steps are taken.

Sara Radcliffe is president and CEO of the California Life Sciences Association, a nonprofit advocacy group for biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and research universities and institutes. She can be contacted at SRadcliffe@CALifeSciences.org.