Working for patients on the Cancer Survivors Caucus
© iStock

No matter your party affiliation, background or what part of the country you’re from, cancer has touched all of us in some way.

As someone who practiced pharmacy for over 30 years before coming to Congress, I would see daily the tough decisions and life events that people dealt with as they grappled with this terrible disease.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s why I knew that joining the Energy and Commerce Committee to work on health care issues was at the top of my list. That decision, and my work since entering Congress, led me to join the Cancer Survivors Caucus earlier this year as one of its co-chairs.

While much progress has been made in therapies, advanced diagnoses and treatments, cancer remains a disease prevalent in our society. In 2018 alone, it was estimated that 1.7 million people were diagnosed with cancer. That’s why this caucus is so important to discuss the real issues that those diagnosed with cancer face while battling the disease and after they defeat it. 

We have had discussions that found that while many individuals were able to prepare and fight through the treatment, there was less preparedness for the transition to post-treatment health.

Another area of concern is how costs create significant issues for cancer patients during and after treatment. That’s why we’re working to fix surprise billing in the Energy & Commerce Committee, as well as the rising costs of health care. 

As the only pharmacist in Congress, health care costs are one of my top concerns for cancer patients. In fact, health care costs are one of my top concerns for all Americans.

2017 report from the American Cancer Society found that cancer patients paid nearly $4 billion out-of-pocket for cancer treatments. In total, roughly $87.8 billion was spent in 2014 in the U.S. on cancer-related health care.

These are shocking numbers, but it makes sense when you see the price tag for a single patient’s use of a CAR-T cell drug reported to be $373,000. As I always say, we’ve seen miracles in new medications and health care innovations. But it means absolutely nothing for the patients who need it the most if they can’t afford it.

I truly believe one of the most significant impacts we can make for patients with cancer is to lower health care costs, specifically prescription drug costs. To do this, we must put the free market back into our health care system and increase transparency in the drug supply chain. It’s proven to be a challenging task, but we’re working every day to make it happen.

For example, last year, President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE signed my proposal to eliminate “gag clause” provisions into law. Before that, pharmacists were many times contractually prohibited from telling patients when they could pay less out of pocket for their prescriptions rather than using their insurance.

We must shake up the current health care system that has allowed big business to wedge itself between patients and their health care in a dangerously opaque manner. It’s been encouraging, too, to have the support of President Trump and his administration as we work to lower health care costs for all Americans.

It’s also important for Congress to continue to support the National Cancer Institute as they work to develop cutting edge treatments to help people not only overcome the disease but to lessen the physical strain the treatments put on their bodies. 

For many patients, their physical will to fight and defeat cancer takes a major toll and utilizing the resources of the federal government while looking to private sector efforts has led to promising opportunities.

Additionally, just recently, I joined my colleagues in offering an amendment to the first appropriations package this year that passed the U.S. House of Representatives which would support a study by the National Cancer Institute on how to improve communication between providers, patients and survivors. 

Increasing and improving this line of communication can lead to better outcomes that will have a positive impact on one’s health. By looking at closing those gaps and giving better feedback to providers, it’s possible that treatments can be more effective and less intrusive for patients and their efforts to live normal lives.

The Cancer Survivors Caucus is a strong, bipartisan group of members dedicated to not only fighting cancer, but ensuring patients have what they need after treatment. I’m proud to be a co-chair and I’m dedicated to continuing this very important work.

Carter represents the 1st District of Georgia in the United States House of Representatives. He is the only pharmacist currently serving in Congress and is a co-chair of the Cancer Survivors Caucus.