“We know he is someone who actually sincerely cares about access to medicine. He sincerely cares about children. He sincerely cares about the prices of medicine and so we had hoped that he would come out against the Transpacific Partnership.”
“We learned that there’s a very strong movement in [his] district to get him to oppose the TPP and to publicly declare his opposition.”
The capitol congressional office of Jared Polis was the location on Wednesday of a protest against the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) by cancer patients and the health care professionals who treat them.
Zahara Heckscher, 51, is a mother from Washington, D.C., and has been experiencing the advanced stages of breast cancer for the past four years. On Wednesday she blocked the entrance to the office of Colorado Representative Jared Polis while calling out her reasons for using a direct action for what she saw as one way to raise the issue of the TPP references to pharmaceuticals and “demanding that the congressman take a stand against the ‘death sentence’ imposed by the expansion of medicine monopolies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”
This month Heckscher learned that her insurance rejected her doctor’s prescription for her to take Herceptin, a medicine that could cost her family over $50,000 a year if the decision is not reversed. She noted that, “Six hundred dollars for an EpiPen seems like a bargain compared to the prices for the cutting-edge biologic medicines, which would be guaranteed extra monopoly extensions under the TPP. A biosimilar version of Herceptin available in India is not available here in the United States because of policies that delay generics. The TPP will lock in and export these kinds of policies.”
Doctors Without Borders has said the TPP would “go down in history as the worst-ever trade agreement for access to medicines” and is “bad for people needing access to medicines worldwide, including in the U.S.”
As current congressional hearings cover price-gouging of pharmaceuticals, specifically of the EpiPen, Heckscher said, “Members of Congress who don’t like EpiPen prices should vote against the TPP. The TPP would lock in policies that lead pharmaceutical companies to jack up prices. The high medicine prices the TPP would promote exploit patients, rip off taxpayers, and cost lives.”
At Polis’ Capitol Hill office, Heckscher, the co-founder of Cancer Families for Affordable Medicines (CancerFAM.org), shared the stories of cancer patients and loved ones from Polis’ district who are experiencing life-threatening issues with affordable cancer medicines, “One of the most controversial aspects of the TPP would require all TPP countries to provide special monopoly rights for biologic medicines, which include many cutting-edge cancer drugs.” She chanted that the TPP would be a “death sentence” for many cancer patients by keeping life-saving cancer medicines out of reach due to exorbitant monopoly pricing.
Heckscher and supporters refused to leave the office without a commitment from Polis. The group listed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and other Democratic House members who have announced opposition to the TPP.
“A vote for the TPP is a vote that could effectively take some patients backwards in time to the dark ages of cancer treatment. It will prevent too many people with cancer – and other life threatening illnesses – from accessing the new treatments they need to stay alive,” said Heckscher, explaining why she felt compelled to risk arrest at Polis’ office today. “One of my current medicines could have cost me $118,000 per year if I had not qualified for a clinical trial. And now I am at the mercy of my insurance company to decide if I can take a medicine that is still under monopoly protection, which keeps its price obscenely high. The TPP, if passed, would lock in policies in the United States that lead to overpriced medicines and reduce access. We can’t allow any member of Congress who claims to care about public health to stand on the sidelines. Rep. Polis must publicly state his opposition to the TPP now.”
Matthew Moy, a physician with the American Medical Student Association also appeared before Polis’ office stating, “Future doctors want to be able to prescribe the medicines our patients need. The TPP could limit our ability to do so. The TPP provisions on intellectual property threaten to keep costs so high they will be out of reach, especially the new, life-saving biologics used to treat cancer and other illnesses.”
Jean Ross RN, and co-president of National Nurses United said, “The TPP agreement [is] an all-out assault on public health and safety in the U.S. and around the world. Nurses are particularly appalled at monopoly pricing protections for giant pharmaceutical firms that could be a death sentence for countless patients in need of affordable medications.”
Those participating in the action said that Polis was targeted because he is “One of very few Democrats in the House of Representatives who have not declared opposition to the TPP. He has long claimed to be an advocate for consumers’ access to affordable medicine.” Polis met with the group after Heckscher was released from jail but according to Hecksher, still did not commit to voting against the TPP, “I am appreciative of his taking the time to personally meet with us, but I learned from the conversation that there is a lot of false information on Capitol Hill by the big business forces that are trying to promote the TPP.”
The TPP cannot move forward without congressional approval, but is expected to be pushed through by corporate and business lobby during the lame-duck session after the November 8 election.