Representative Pelosi: Please Fight TPP’s Death Sentence for Cancer Patients

Hannah being led out of PhRMA headquarters in handcuffs, Feb. 4.

I am a 29-year-old Bay Area resident with metastatic cervical cancer. I travel across the country for a government-funded clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that is giving me hope, two years after my terminal diagnosis.

I know the life-and-death consequences of having access to the latest cancer treatments. That’s why on World Cancer Day, Feb. 4, I engaged in a civil disobedience protest at the Washington D.C. office of the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying association. The afternoon ended in arrest and a D.C. jail cell.

Just this morning, I went before a Washington, D.C. Superior Court judge to be arraigned on charges of unlawful entry. Before my arrest, I had never taken part in civil disobedience or even spoken publicly about my cancer. But I know at a deeply personal level the life and death stakes for many cancer patients if the TPP is approved.

Hannah and fellow cancer patient and advocate, Zahara Heckscher, after their arraignment, Feb. 25

The pharmaceutical industry is pushing for expanded monopoly rights over medicines in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If they succeed and block the market competition that is needed to bring down medicine prices, the TPP could be a death sentence for cancer patients like me.

The TPP has been labeled a ‘free trade agreement.’ However, hidden in the 5000-page text is a Pharma wish list of anti-free trade provisions. These terms would lock in U.S. policies that lead to exorbitant prices for medicines for cancer and other life-threatening diseases and export such rules to the eleven other TPP signatory nations.

The biological treatment that allows me to bike, hike, and generally thrive, would cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars if not for the NIH trial. Extreme monopoly protections that block generic competition mean pharmaceutical firms can reap enormous profits by price-gouging desperate people fighting for their very lives.

I remember crying after getting off another pointless phone call with my health insurance company. Young adults like me around the globe are struggling with cancer diagnoses while trying to juggle careers, young children and relationships.

Worrying about finances should be the last thing on our minds. But crippling health care costs and inability to work mean patients can lose their homes and jobs.

And high drug prices deplete Medicaid and Medicare’s budget as taxpayers’ money turns into Big Pharma’s staggering profits.

Today, in 2016, people without access to drug trials, insurance, or government programs are dying of treatable cancers. The TPP would expand this broken system.

Pharma claims that monopoly protections encourage development of new cutting-edge medicines. In fact, much of cancer research happens through publicly-funded research hospitals and universities. Vice-President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot gives millions of dollars to the NIH to continue their amazing work to save lives and further our understanding of cancer.

This publicly-funded research often turns into privately-held patents, which guarantee exclusive rights to sell medicines at prices set by pharmaceutical firms. The day I was arrested, ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli was invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination at a congressional hearing. His raising the price 5000% of a live-saving medicine only differs from the rest of industry practice by his unabashed gleefulness.

The TPP would facilitate such greedy conduct while ignoring the concerns of patients and public health experts. It would even roll back modest improvements for access to affordable medicines included in trade agreements negotiated under the Bush administration.

The TPP actually incentivizes tweaking existing drugs in order to extend patents (and therefore extended monopolies on sales) instead of investing in true innovation.

Doctors without Borders calls the TPP “the worst ever trade agreement for access to medicines.” That’s no surprise, really, given negotiations took place in secrecy for seven years, with privileged access for representatives from Big Pharma that served as official U.S. trade advisors while Congress, the public and press were locked out.

I was arrested protesting the TPP in solidarity with all young adults with cancer who deserve access to treatments like mine, and to move beyond cancer to healthy and fulfilling lives.

We need access to medicines, not more rules that will literally be a death sentence to many people with cancer who cannot afford the new life-extending treatments.

In the Bay Area, we are fortunate to have a representative in Congress with tremendous influence. Representative Nancy Pelosi has used her leadership position to advocate for more affordable health care in the United States and around the globe.

I urge her now to stand with patients and lead the charge in Congress to save us from the TPP death sentence.

Click here to contribute to the Cancer Patients Legal Defense and Advocacy Fund

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