Federal Right to Try Bill Enacted

Published July 13, 2018

This historic legislation will allow people who are seriously ill or diagnosed as terminal to apply to use experimental treatments or therapies that have passed the safety phase of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. Tim Huelskamp, president of The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, was in attendance at the signing ceremony by invitation of the White House. Huelskamp and Heartland have been strong proponents of both Right to Try legislation and Free to Choose Medicine policy prescriptions.

The goal of both reform efforts is to give seriously ill patients and their families the freedom to choose their health care regime. Right to Try laws have already been enacted in 40 states. The federal legislation ensures that the FDA will not interfere with state Right to Try reforms.

Advancing Principles

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that president was happy to deliver on the promise he made in his 2018 State of the Union address where he expressed his support of Right to Try legislation.

“This legislation [is an] alternative pathway for patients with life-threatening illnesses,” Sanders said via an official statement. “This Administration believes that treatment decisions for those facing life-threatening illnesses are best made by the patients with the support and guidance of their treating physicians. This legislation advances these principles. Almost forty states have passed their own versions of this important legislation, and we look forward to addressing this at the Federal level. Implementing patient-centered healthcare policies is a priority…and we will continue our work to ensure Americans have access to the healthcare options they deserve.”

Encouraging Self-Sufficiency

Kurt Hellmann, campaign manager of the Free to Choose Medicine Campaign at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says the new law puts health care consumers on the path toward independence in making decisions for themselves and their families.

“This is an important first step in providing patients greater control over their care,” Hellmann said. “Seriously ill patients will now have access to potentially lifesaving drugs that have not yet been fully approved by the FDA.”

Restoring Hope

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, championed Right to Try legislation in the Senate, which passed a version of the bill, called the Johnson-Donnelly bill after the senator and co-sponsor Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), by unanimous consent in August 2017. In a press release, Johnson expressed his pleasure at the House’s decision to vote on his bill.

“For years, terminally ill patients and their families have been fighting for the right to hope and the freedom to try to save their own lives,” Johnson said. “Passing Right to Try will provide freedom to terminally ill patients and restore lost hope to them and their families.”

‘Freedom, Compassion, and Choice’

Johnson began his push for a national Right to Try in 2016, with a letter to Dr. Stephen Ostroff, acting commissioner of the FDA at the time, expressing concern the agency was not following guidelines for a streamlined process that would have allowed expanded access to terminal patients to drugs not yet approved by the FDA.

With Trump adopting the cause and advocating passage of Right to Try at a congressional retreat in February 2018, the vote by the GOP-led House of Representatives soon followed. Hellmann says he applauds the decision by the president to return control over health care decisions to the seriously ill and their families.

“President Trump has signed the bill as he said he would,” Hellmann said. “And we commend him for helping restore freedom, compassion, and choice for these patients in their time of greatest need.”