March 27, 2015

Allowing terminally ill patients access to experimental options

Drugs (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Drugs (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

It’s a last resort, according to Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison). The Madison Democrat is introducing “Right-to-Try” legislation for individuals who are dying and all other treatments have failed. “It applies only to terminally ill patients — patients who are about to pass away. It permits them to use, you might say, experimental drugs.”

The hope is that it gives the patient one more chance at life. If it doesn’t work, Risser said it’s not a total loss. It could speed up the drug-testing process and help many lives in the future. “And if I were terminally ill and a drug was available, I would certainly be willing to try it,” said the longtime lawmaker. “Maybe it wouldn’t help me but it might help move the drug along and in the future save many lives.”

Patients would know what they were getting into, so Risser said there’s limited liability written into his just-introduced bill.

It takes years for researchers to test new drugs and get FDA approval for general use. Under the legislation, a manufacturer may make an investigational drug, device, or biological product available to an eligible patient.

AUDIORisser asks why not? :13

“Patients who are at the end of their rope and are willing to accept the risk should be permitted to jump the lengthy approval process for the sake of survival,” said Representative Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), who is the Assembly sponsor of the bill.

Though an investigational drug, device, or biological product has not yet been approved for general use by the federal Food and Drug Administration, the bill requires it has successfully completed a phase one clinical trial. The bill prohibits a state official from blocking an eligible patient’s access to an investigational drug, device, or biological product.

Six states already have Right-to-Try laws: Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Missouri, Louisiana, and Michigan. It’s been introduced in 24 other states.

Wisconsin’s long-term care program faces changes in budget

Governor Scott Walker’s budget contains concerns, for supporters of Wisconsin’s long-term care system.

The proposal would overhaul the system that provides long-term care to more than 50,000 residents who are elderly or have long-term disabilities. The state spends some $2 billion annually on the Family Care and IRIS Medicaid programs. The budget proposal would have the state contract with insurance companies to manage both long-term care and medical care.

Beth Swedeen, co-chair of the Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations, said there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the proposed changes.

“Everybody has people in their lives who have disabilities. Everybody has people in their lives who are aging and who might be in need of support,” she said. Supporters are calling on lawmakers today at the Capitol.

Wisconsin advocate pleased by Senate medical marijuana bill

Is My Medicine Legal Yet

Is My Medicine Legal Yet

A Wisconsin advocate for medical marijuana sees the introduction of a bipartisan medical marijuana bill in the U.S. Senate as a step forward on the issue. “The fact that this bill is being introduced in the U.S. Senate I think is historic, and a very good sign,” said Gary Storck with Madison-based “Is My Medicine Legal Yet.”

The bill was introduced by Kentucky Republican, Senator Rand Paul, and Democrats, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Corey Booker of New Jersey. Storck notes that state efforts to legalize medical uses for marijuana remain important, but notes that “in the case of

“It’s it definitely a sign that the issue has matured, that it’s been discussed at the Senate level in Washington, and it’s not just some kind of fringe thing.” said Storck. “Granted, this bill isn’t going to pass, but it’s a huge step forward.”

Storck noted that state efforts to legalize medical uses for marijuana remain important, but notes that “in the case of Wisconsin, this is an issue that’s been kicking around now for over 20 years, and we still have seen only minimal progress.” Legislative efforts on medical marijuana have met with no success at the Capitol, and Storck said nothing is likely in this session.

He expects the U.S. Senate bill to at least spur discussion on the issue. “Once you get people to talk about it and discuss it, I think good things flow from that,” he said. The offices of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators, Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin, said that each would review the legislation.

Report: Baldwin staffers mishandled Tomah VA concerns

Tomah VA

Tomah VA

A report commissioned by the office of Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin found no cover-up or any similar effort to suppress whistleblower allegations, or a report by the Office of Inspector General, into the overmedication of patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Tomah.

Baldwin’s office released the findings of the report by a Seattle based law firm on Friday. It blames members of the Democrat’s constituent services staff for mishandling the Inspector General’s report, and said more “could have been done by staff to address the problems at Tomah.”

The report from the Perkins Coie firm found that Baldwin’s constituent services team in Milwaukee did not effectively communicate their work on the issue, either to Baldwin’s Wisconsin State Director, or staff in Washington, D.C.

“On July 1, 2014, Senator Baldwin visited the Tomah VA facility. Senator Baldwin’s Chief of Staff had been pressing the staff to identify problems at Wisconsin VA facilities that could be addressed in the reform legislation moving through Congress following the Phoenix VA scandal. Prior to Senator Baldwin’s trip, staff convened a conference call to go over issues that Senator Baldwin should discuss with facility administrators while at Tomah. Although the Deputy State Director for Constituent Services (Casework Supervisor) was on the call, she inexplicably failed to inform other staff about the whistleblower complaint, the office’s correspondence with the Director of the Tomah VA Medical Center, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Congressional Liaison, the VA Great Lakes Health Care System, VISN 12, or its initial communications with the OIG. As a result, Senator Baldwin was not made aware of this crucial information in advance of her visit to the Tomah facility in July.”

Problems at the Tomah Center initially came to light in January, when the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting said that opiate prescriptions at Tomah grew by over 500 percent from 2004-to-2012, and that a Marine died from an overdose. The Tomah hospital is under an ongoing investigation by VA and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Baldwin in turn came under fire when whistleblower Ryan Honl said he tried working with her office after finding out she had OIG the report, but stayed silent for months. Baldwin fired her deputy state director of constituent services, Marquette Baylor. The Perkins Coie report did not refer to Baylor by name.

Federal VA officials visit Tomah VA Medical Center

A top Veterans Administration official is in Tomah Tuesday as part of the investigation into over prescribing opiate pain killers to veterans.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson plans to be at the Tomah VA Medical Center Tuesday morning. His office confirmed Gibson will talk to employees, facility leadership, and stakeholders throughout the morning. He does plan to make brief remarks to the media after his series of meetings.

This is not the only time Washington will be sending officials to Tomah. Congressman Sean Duffy confirmed Monday that the House Veterans Affairs Committee will have a field hearing in Tomah as part of their own investigation into prescription and veterans care issues. That hearing will begin at 1:00 p.m. at the VA Medical Center on March 30th. Duffy says he is grateful Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, “recognized the magnitude of the situation and heeded the request.”