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Congress Blog: Medical Advances Keep Me Running

August 21, 2015
This week, 74-year-old multiple myeloma patient Don Wright shares his story on how cancer drugs have allowed him to not only keep his cancer in check, but enabled him to be well enough and free enough to run marathons around the country.

For 12 years, Wright has been battling a cancer called multiple myeloma, a rare cancer in the bone marrow that used to have a life expectancy of just three years. Medical advances changed that.

On Sunday, Wright will complete his 88th marathon since his diagnosis in 2003.

Wright shares his concern that some experts have gone too far challenging the price of drugs to treat cancer.

'They’re addressing cost, but not the high value patients and the healthcare system reap from a whole new approach to combat this frightening disease... As a patient I’m concerned that our legislators in Washington will hear what they have to say, when it’s patients like myself who need our voices heard.'

Wright goes on to describe his treatment:
I didn’t lose my hair. I didn’t lose my lunch. In fact, at 74 years old with cancer, I ran 58 marathons while taking this little pill - 87 marathons in all just since I was diagnosed, with my 88th marathon coming up on August 23rd. These marathons are symbolic of what can be achieved with modern cancer treatments. Although I’m semi-retired, it also means I can continue to work and support my family, pay taxes and my insurance premiums.

He raises the question of what a medical innovation such as this is worth by asking, 'how do we figure the human value to the patient and the patient's loved ones?' He then shares his perspective in response:
Is this how doctors practice medicine today, looking at cost instead of value?  Siding with the insurance industry instead of with their patients?  Choosing treatments that are not in their patients’ best interest because they’re less expensive?...

What needs to be reformed is not the cost of the drugs, but the insurance that covers them. We have to push back against the high co-pays insurance companies impose for cancer medications, against “Step Therapy” – insurance companies requiring patients to take older treatments instead of what their doctors prescribed. Did you know many policies reimburse at a lower rate for cancer pills taken by mouth rather than injection?

As Wright points out, prescription medicine spending is just 10 percent of healthcare spending according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS. For cancer specifically, the new pharmaceuticals are less than 1 percent of total healthcare spending.

For Wright and patients like him, there is tremendous hope for need for continued innovation but we cannot take this progress for granted. Wright acknowledges that he may need another 'miracle pill' but worries that no one will invest the 'time, money and trouble to research, test and market a medication for a small group of people if doctors are going to challenge their ability to get a return on this investment...'

Wright explains that revenues from one drug fund the development and regulatory approval of a newer drug, that in turn fund development and approval of an even newer and better drug. He writes, 'We can’t risk having medical innovation threatened, and the medical advances that are helping cancer patients stopped in their tracks.'

All too often, the value of this innovation and its impact on lives and families is lost on many of those engaged in the debate. Wright concludes by sharing his story on the impact that his treatment has had on his life:
I can’t put a dollar value on another year with family and friends, of another crisp morning spent in my running shoes, but I know I’m leading a richer life every day because of medications that you label as “too costly.”  To the contrary, because of medical innovation, I have lived to meet my grandchildren, and they know their grandpa. And that's just one story out of tens of thousands of beautiful stories made possible by the medicines that are now under attack - by the medicines that [allow doctors] to change of the lives of the patients in their care.

The full piece can be accessed here.