Spokane Journal of Business

No nobler cause than saving lives

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Last August, when I joined Steve Gleason for Gleason Fest in Spokane to take on a challenge that was reverberating all across America, I knew in my heart I had a responsibility to advocate in Congress for Steve, for his family, and for the entire ALS community.

So, as a five gallon pail of icy cold water was dumped over my head as a part of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I made a commitment to help, however I could.  

As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, a big part of my job is spent working on bipartisan legislation to expand medical innovation and improve health care in Eastern Washington. For the past sixty years, we’ve celebrated America as being the global leader in breakthroughs and new ideas—but often, when it comes to medical advancements, clinical trials, and the drug approval process, we need to better harness the amazing technologies we have at our fingertips.

That’s why the Committee’s bipartisan 21st Century Cures initiative aims to accelerate the discovery and development of new treatments and cures by bringing life-saving innovations to market faster and more affordably, in Washington state and across the country. 

This isn’t about politics, partisan or otherwise. It’s about saving lives. 

At a time when we as a nation should be utilizing all that the 21st century has to offer our patients, we’ve seen investment in innovative medical device companies decrease by more than 40 percent. These innovators, who rely on an open and transparent regulatory system to bring the next groundbreaking invention to market, are being snuffed out before their invention can take its first breath.

This is a direct result of our country’s stagnated and paternalistic regulatory approval process, which is why it’s so critical we embrace an open, bottom-up approach to change the status quo. Our initiative works to eliminate the cumbersome regulations that stymie scientific research and development, and instead embraces innovation and cutting-edge technologies to empower patients.  

Last week, I hosted a roundtable at WSU Spokane to highlight the 21st Century Cures initiative, which brought together a room full of patient advocates, innovators, and researchers from Eastern Washington and across the country, including Gail Gleason.

Here at home, we know Gail as the quiet but fearless mother of Steve Gleason. I’ve visited with her many times over the years, and consider Gail to be one of our nation’s most tireless advocates for the ALS community. It is through this inspirational family that I’ve seen how critical speech generating devices can be for millions of Americans with neurological and degenerative diseases who rely on this technology to communicate with loved ones. 

When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced policy changes that severely limit patient access to these innovative, life-changing devices, I knew we had to stand up. That’s why in January, with the help of the Gleason family, it was an honor to introduce the Steve Gleason Act in Congress, which would reverse these shortsighted changes, and put our system back on track to utilize this transformative technology. Still, there is more work for us to do—and 21st Century Cures is stepping up to the challenge.

This initiative not only paves the way for better and faster cures, it also creates new opportunities for our local economy by encouraging new technologies and medical innovation.

I’m proud to have authored six bills that are included in the Cures discussion draft—bills that modernize Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act laws, accelerate the discovery of new cures, create research consortia to treat pediatric disorders, and bring our regulatory framework into the 21st century by embracing technologies that focus on patient-specific therapies. I  believe it’s imperative for patients to be heard when it comes to the treatments that affect them, which is why part of our initiative ensures that patients are given a voice and input into the approval process.

The medicines that save people’s lives every day for heart disease and cancer and diabetes all started with a small idea—an idea that stemmed from an individual who was empowered to think big and imagine what could be. Today, there are 7,000 diseases that impact us—but currently, only 500 of those have treatments—meaning we need to encourage more small ideas, and more innovative possibilities in health care, so we can turn that unsettling statistic on its head. 

I am so proud to join our scientists, our job creators, our lawmakers, and most important, our patients, in the fight to promote medical innovation and save lives in Eastern Washington and across the country. To me, there is no cause more noble than this one.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, has served since 2005 as the U.S. representative for the 5th congressional district, which includes Spokane and the eastern third of Washington.

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