Gus Bilirakis Focuses on Helping Patients By Expanding Access to Cell Transplants

As one of the chairs of the Congressional Caucus to Cure Blood Cancers and Other Blood Disorders, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., has been increasingly focused on cell transplant issues.

As part of one of the federal omnibus bills passed last month, the “Patient Access to Cellular Transplant (PACT) Act” which U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., proposed with Bilirakis’ support was signed into law.

“The Patient Access to Cellular Transplant (PACT) Act will ensure patients in need of bone marrow or stem cell transplants have access to lifesaving treatment. For older Americans with blood cancers – like leukemia, lymphoma, and Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), limited treatment options have been devastating. Medicare reimbursement rates simply weren’t enough to cover the costs of cell acquisition, a lengthy hospital stay, and managing the intricacies of the transplant process from start to finish.  The PACT Act updates Medicare policy to reimburse hospitals for the cost of acquiring bone marrow and stem cells, the same way solid organ acquisition costs are paid.  This means that patients who may have otherwise died without these life-saving treatments will now have access to the care they need,” the congressman’s office noted.

Bilirakis weighed in on why he worked with Kind to get the bill over the finish line earlier this month.

“Medicare policy simply hadn’t kept pace with technological advances; and tragically, this disparity threatened the lives of older Americans with blood cancers – often stripping them of hope for a cure.  Whereas physicians once had very few options to treat these patients, today, blood transplants offer a cure. These treatments can be the difference between life and death, and I am proud that our new law fixes the problem and ensures access,” said Bilirakis.

Despite being in the minority, the PACT Act was one of eight bills that Bilirakis helped write which cleared the finish line in 2019. Bilirakis weighed in on why he was successful last year despite the GOP being in the minority.

“I have always been a consensus builder, regardless of which party was in power or what distractions may exist,” said Bilirakis.  “Particularly when it comes to doing the right thing for patients and for our nation’s heroes, I will continue to reach across the aisle and get things done for my constituents and community.”

One bill that Bilirakis is still working on is a proposal to reauthorize the cell transplantation program named after a longtime Florida congressman.

Back in October, Bilirakis announced his support for U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui’s, D-Calif., “Timely Re-Authorization of Necessary Stem-cell Programs Lends Access to Needed Therapies (TRANSPLANT) Act.” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, is also cosponsoring the bill which would reauthorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program and the National Cord Blood Inventory. Longtime U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., served in Congress for more than four decades until his death in 2013 and led the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

“Through renewed federal funding for the vital national bone marrow and cord blood registry and coordinating centers, which facilitate bone marrow and cord blood donations, the TRANSPLANT Act ensures the continued provision of lifesaving transplants to treat diseases like blood cancer, sickle cell anemia, and inherited metabolic or immune system disorders,” Bilirakis’ office noted.

“For the 1.3 million Americans fighting painful and potentially life-threatening blood cancer or bone marrow disorders, a successful transplant brings hope and a second chance at life,” said Matsui in October. “Reauthorizing the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, the ‘Be a Match’ National Registry, and the National Cord Blood Inventory are critical in connecting patients with donors and funding life-saving research to eradicate these devastating diseases. I am proud to introduce the TRANSPLANT Act so we can continue to support patients in need and those willing to give the gift of life.”

“This bill is about providing hope to those who are struggling with life-threatening illnesses.  This federal program provides critical support in the advancement of research for better treatments and the infrastructure necessary to organize registries which help ensure transplant patients have access to life-saving procedures.  Its reauthorization is vital, and I hope our colleagues will join us in expediting passage of this important legislation,” said Bilirakis.

“Every year, more than 17,000 people are diagnosed with illnesses where bone marrow and cord blood donations can quite literally save their lives,” said Pingree. “I’m proud to be a lead sponsor of the TRANSPLANT Act, which will help secure and expand the work being done by the national donor registry and find matches for as many patients as we can.”

The bill was sent to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on which Bilirakis sits back in October. Since then, Matsui, Bilirakis and Pingree have been able to reel in more than a dozen cosponsors including Florida Democrat U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Alcee Hastings. So far, there is no counterpart over in the U.S. Senate.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

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