We are getting worse, not better.
So, when I hear that if the current IRA policies on drug classifications and price controls go into effect, it will slow down research, reduce development and result in fewer clinical trials, it terrifies me. I have spent decades working to improve awareness, access, outcomes and affordability for health care in New Jersey; for me, this is personal.
No life-saving drug should ever be out of reach for a person in need because they can’t afford it, but I recognize that there are cases where that is the reality. Presently, one of Sister2Sister’s members has stage 4 breast cancer and needs the drug Ibrance. She paid a $3,000 annual deductible, and it costs more than $800 each month. She has to choose — buy food or buy drugs? Sister2Sister helped support her for a couple of months, but even Sister has a limit on how much support is provided to each survivor because the need is so great. That, however, is a problem we strive to fix. We continue to fund, subsidize and raise money to support women who can’t afford their treatment — but what we can’t do is invent that breakthrough drug that could be the difference between life and death.
A recent study by Vital Transformation found if government-mandated drug pricing policies are accelerated as proposed in the IRA, in the next decade, we are going to miss out on over 200 new medicines. And where are the areas that will be most impacted by this lack of development? The areas we need new treatments the most — cancer drugs, neurological treatments, therapies for rare diseases and critical pharmaceuticals that can prevent the spread of infectious disease.
We all know that health care discrepancies between white folks and people of color are multifaceted. We know that one’s ZIP code and socioeconomic status significantly contribute to their care and overall health. So does the color of one’s skin and we have far too little data to fully understand why. At the most fundamental level, we know that Black women die from breast cancer at a higher rate than white women — which means Black women have more to gain from better drugs and more advanced treatment.
Back when these policies were first taking shape in the IRA, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was one of the most strongly opposed representatives in the Democratic caucus, not because he opposes saving people money but because he knows how important new treatments are for vulnerable populations. A longtime champion of innovation, Sen. Menendez knows the impact on the oncology population of clinical trials and the need for furthering research, especially in communities of color.
I have fought cancer disparities and helped break down racial barriers among Black cancer patients for over 20 years. I chair the Community Cancer Action board for the Cancer Health Equity Center of Excellence at Rutgers Cancer Institute, am a member of the St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Community Public Education board. I sit on the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Community Relations Committee as well as Rutgers’ New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science Advisory Committee. In 2015 I was selected as a Champion for Change honoree by the White House.
I say all of that in the hope that you will believe me when I say we need more clinical trials, we need to accelerate research, not dampen it, and if we don’t, communities of color will suffer. Black women will continue to die from breast cancer at an alarming rate and we will have no chance at closing the disparity gap.
Making cancer drugs more accessible and investing in newer, more effective treatments do not have to be mutually exclusive. We can and must do both and we have to support the policymakers with Sen. Menendez, who is standing up for cancer patients, for innovation and ensuring that policies don’t restrict our access to life-saving therapies.