Conservative group prods Walden over 'right to try' bill

Conservative group prods Walden over 'right to try' bill
© Greg Nash

The conservative group FreedomWorks is turning up the heat on a top House Republican to support bipartisan legislation that would allow terminally ill patients unrestricted access to experimental drug treatments.

FreedomWorks wants House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to advance the Right to Try Act (H.R. 878), which was introduced in February but hasn’t moved through the committee.

“Right now there are millions of Americans lying in hospital beds, fighting for their lives. And Congressman Greg Walden isn't doing anything to help them!” the group wrote in an online ad urging its followers to tell Walden to support the bill.

“There’s bipartisan support so I don’t know why it’s still sitting there. It should be a slam dunk for the committee,” said Jason Pye, FreedomWorks’ vice president of legislative affairs.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and has 41 co-sponsors, but counts only four of the committee’s Democrats as supporters. An Energy and Commerce Committee spokesman didn’t respond to questions about the status of the legislation or about Walden’s support for the bill.

But a separate Senate version of the legislation, championed by Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol MORE (R-Wis.), is moving much quicker and a lobbyist familiar with the legislation said it could be on the Senate floor as soon as next week.

Without House action, the legislation could linger. Supporters of the bill say the federal government needs to cut through the bureaucratic red tape of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval process. They argue that people who are near the end of their life should have a right to take riskier medicines.

“Right to Try” laws are on the books in 37 states, but have yet to be implemented at a federal level.

Vice President Pence is an advocate of the laws and signed Indiana’s right to try law in 2015 while he was governor. Pence met with proponents of the federal law in February and pledged the support of President Trump.

During a meeting with pharmaceutical executives in January, Trump suggested he'd make changes to the drug rules for terminal patients.

“One thing that has always disturbed me, they come up with a new drug for a patient who is terminal and the FDA says, ‘We can’t have this drug used on the patient,’ ” Trump said.

Opponents of the legislation say it would undermine the authority of the FDA, and wouldn’t make it any easier for the terminally ill to access treatments. Drugmakers control access to experimental treatments, and they aren’t always on board with right to try policies. Even if they are, opponents say, it doesn't mean insurers will pay.