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Democratic senators call for $26B in next COVID-19 relief package to support research workforce

Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) and 31 of their Senate colleagues are calling for protections for the U.S. scientific research community during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although novel coronavirus-related research is a current federal government priority, most other research has slowed or stopped due to closures of campuses and laboratories. The people who comprise the research workforce—graduate students, postdocs, principal investigators, and technical support staff—face financial and other hardships from the disruption of their research activities.

The senators are calling for $26 billion in emergency relief funding for the research community in the next coronavirus relief package.

“Research universities, academic medical centers, and national labs are major employers in all 50 states, and protecting the research workforce is critical to state economies,” wrote the senators in their letter to Senate leadership. “Congress must act to preserve our current scientific workforce and ensure that the U.S. is prepared to continue our global scientific leadership once this crisis ends.”

In their letter, the senators specifically call for funding in the next relief package to:

  • Cover supplements for research grants and contracts caused by the pandemic, including additional salary support and/or research related ramp-up costs;

  • Provide emergency relief to sustain research support personnel and base operating costs for core research facilities and user-funded research services until such time as facilities reopen and research activities return to pre-pandemic activity levels; and

  • Fund additional graduate student and postdoc fellowships, traineeships, and research assistantships for up to two years. Graduate students who could not complete their degrees due to the pandemic should be given priority for graduate fellowships and other forms of support so they can complete their research and degrees.

This effort has been endorsed by the Association of American Universities, American Council on Education, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Association of American Medical Colleges, Union of Concerned Scientists, ACT for NIH, Alzheimer’s Association, American Association for Cancer Research, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Geophysical Union, American Lung Association, American Mathematical Society, American Meteorological Society, American Chemical Society, American Physical Society, American Physiological Society, American Society for Cell Biology, American Society for Microbiology, Association of Independent Research Institutes, Autism Speaks, Coalition for the Life Sciences, EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases, Friends of Cancer Research, Geological Society of America , JDRF, Research!America, Society for Neuroscience, and other groups.

House members call for equal access to affordable oral chemotherapy prescription drugs amidst COVID-19 outbreak

Members of the House of Representatives are pushing for the next COVID-19 emergency package to include language giving cancer patients equal access to oral chemotherapy medications that can be taken at home.

Brian Higgins (D-NY), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) sent a letter to House leadership urging inclusion of oral chemo parity in the next coronavirus emergency legislation.

“Because those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for contracting COVID19, people with cancer are particularly vulnerable at this time. It is more important than ever that cancer patients are able to access oral anti-cancer medications that they can take at home,” the House members wrote.

Though oral chemotherapy is popular with both patients and oncologists, insurance coverage for cancer treatments has not kept up with some of the most promising oncology research. Consequently, some cancer patients lack access to potentially lifesaving oral therapies. While IV treatments are usually covered under a plan’s medical benefit component, orally administered cancer medications are covered under a plan’s prescription drug component, which often requires a higher percentage of cost-sharing for the patient. Studies have consistently shown that, when faced with high co-pays for orally administered cancer drugs, some patients choose to simply not fill a prescription.

Over 50 cancer organizations also recently wrote to Congressional leadership listing oral chemo parity among their priorities for cancer patients during the coronavirus outbreak.

Because those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, people with cancer are particularly vulnerable. Early estimates show that the mortality rate for cancer patients who contract the virus is around 6%, nearly seven times higher than that for patients with no underlying medical conditions.

On March 13, 2019, Higgins announced H.R. 1730, the Cancer Drug Parity Act, a bill that would require all insurance payers to offer oral cancer medications with the same cost-sharing as IV cancer treatments. The legislation has 129 cosponsors in the House and 17 cosponsors in the Senate.