Opinion Pieces

The Right to Try

The Right to Try
By Congressman Glenn Grothman
April 17, 2018

Lost in the shuffle of tax reform, spending bills, foreign relations and the numerous other bills Congress has passed, the average guy scored a big victory with a bill I firmly pushed to House leadership, and my friend, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Greg Walden. Finally, the House passed “Right to Try” legislation, H.R. 5247, with a bipartisan vote of 267-149.

What does a “Right to Try” law do?

Currently, if a patient is diagnosed as terminally ill, federal law limits treatment to the medications that have worked their way through the entire bureaucratic process to be deemed acceptable. Patients are resigned to either keep trying medications that have not been working for them, or give up treatment altogether.

Finally, government is getting out of the way and “Right to Try” laws are giving families the flexibility they deserve to help their loved ones. These laws will give patients with terminal illnesses the ability to try medications that have passed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Phase 1 trials, but have not yet received approval for mass distribution. No terminally ill patient will be forced to try any of these new medications, they will simply be given the ability to try these potentially lifesaving medical advancements.

“Right to Try” laws are gaining more and more traction around the country, too. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker signed the bill into law earlier this year. In fact, in an era of too much partisanship, when adding together Republicans and Democrats in the state legislatures that have passed “Right to Try” laws, they received a yes vote from 97.8 percent of lawmakers. Having been in the Wisconsin legislature and now Congress, the level of bipartisanship seen with “Right to Try” legislation is not only rare, it’s almost unheard of.

That is why after Senator Johnson’s “Right to Try” bill passed the U.S. Senate with unanimous consent, we in the House decided to expedite the process and pass H.R. 5247 under suspension of parliamentary rules, which requires a two-thirds vote to pass instead of a simple majority. “Right to Try” legislation is intended to help terminally ill patients by providing them new treatments, which are sometimes their last chance for survival. Coupling that with the outpour of bipartisan support throughout the country, we thought a 2/3 vote would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, House Democrats decided to side with the pharmaceutical industry by voting down the “Right to Try” legislation.

Fortunately, for patients seeking one last chance at recovery, H.R. 5247 was reconsidered by the House and passed with bipartisan support. It was heartening to see 35 Democrats accepting one of our offers of bipartisanship and hope they will continue this trend.

This bill needs to pass the Senate one more time to resolve minor changes made in the House before it heads off to President Trump’s desk, who gave his full throated support for “Right to Try” at his most recent State of the Union Address.

Some people think that government is the way to improve everything in our lives. The “Right to Try” legislation will potentially save lives by getting government out of the way and empowering families to make the right decisions for their loved ones.

“Right to Try” was brought to my attention by people in my district with loved ones willing to try treatments still in the approval process, but were being held up by the slow turning wheel of the FDA. So, to me, voting for “Right to Try” was easy. It was also important to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry, who actively opposed this bill, and make sure that those with terminal illnesses have access to treatments, instead of letting them sit on the shelves.

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