Dow Sponsored Legislation To Give Terminally Ill Access To Experimental Drugs In N.M., Before President Signed

By Etta Pettijohn
Last week President Donald Trump signed into law a measure giving terminally ill patients, who have exhausted other options, access to experimental drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The U.S. House and Senate had approved the bill earlier, with support from Democrat Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), and Rep. Steve Pearce (R). Rep. Ben Ray Luján, (D), voted against it.

Forty states have approved “right-to-try” legislation, not including New Mexico.

In 2017 the state House of Representatives approved a “right-to-try” bill unanimously, but the measure failed to receive a vote in the Senate. Rep. Rebecca Dow (R-38), and Kelly K. Fajardo - (R-7), sponsored the legislation.

The measure gives those with terminal illnesses the chance to seek drug treatments that remain in clinical trials and have passed Phase 1 of the Food and Drug Administration's approval process but have not been fully approved by the FDA.

Supporters contend the measure gives a potential for some measure of recovery to patients who don’t have another option, while opponents claim it cuts the FDA out of the process, and question whether it would give patients greater access to experimental drugs.

“My mother in law and brother both died from cancer,” said Dow. “ Each would have chosen alternatives to chemotherapy if they had a legal option. Even though there are many promising practices, most people are unable to access clinical studies, and that seems so unfair.”

When the Rio Grande Foundation approached me to sponsor the bill, it was an easy ‘yes,’” she said.
Dow said the bill received one desenting vote in committee, and none on the floor, while the Senate speaker didn’t hear the bill.

“Rep. Liz Thompson voted against it, stating that it provided a false sense of hope. It did pass the House floor and the entire Senate without any additional opposition. I repeatedly went to the speaker, asking when it would receive a floor vote, and eventually he conceded that the chair of one of the House committees did not want the bill to pass,“ said Dow.

“Apparently this Chair shared representative Thompson‘s concerns, yet did not vocalize them publicly” said Dow. “This chair voted for the bill not once, but twice, while quietly working behind the scenes to make sure it did not receive a floor vote.

“That taught me that there is more than one way to kill a bill,” she said.

Dow said having a federal law is a much better option and could provide continuity for terminal individuals across state lines.

"For many years, patients, advocates, and lawmakers fought for this fundamental freedom," President Trump said while signing the bill. "Incredibly, they couldn't get it -- a lot of it was because of business, because of pharmaceuticals, because of insurance liability, so I said, 'Take care of that stuff' and that's what we did."

Trump also hinted other healthcare news was forthcoming.

"We will have another news conference in three to four weeks,” he said. “We have two great plans coming out, including one from the Secretary of Labor related to association health plans,” referring to regulations that would allow members of associations to work together across state lines to purchase health insurance, an idea that has been criticized because it would allow the plans to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage requirements.

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