WASHINGTON — House Republicans easily passed a controversial bill aimed at helping some dying patients get new access to experimental therapies Wednesday, resurrecting legislation that suffered a major setback just a week ago.
Passage of the bill, on a largely party-line vote of 267-149, is a step forward for the”right-to-try” movement, after House Republicans failed to pass the legislation last Tuesday. Then, they had hoped to rely on an easier, quicker process typically reserved for noncontroversial bills, which requires a two-thirds vote. That day, the bill actually got more support than Wednesday, with a vote of 259-140.
It’s not clear what’s next for the legislation, which has been a priority for President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The Senate unanimously passed a broader right-to-try bill last fall, but did so largely to satisfy the demands of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) as he held up another priority law. A single senator could similarly choose to block or hold up consideration of the now House-passed bill.
A spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell did not immediately respond to a question on whether or when he might advance the legislation.
The bill that passed the House Wednesday is the narrowest federal right-to-try bill yet. For the most part, it looks like many of the bills that came before it: It sets up a new pathway for dying patients who want to sidestep Food and Drug Administration rules to request an experimental drug or treatment from a drug maker before the agency has approved it. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), in consultation with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and other interest groups and companies, added additional provisions to limit the types of patients who can access the pathway and to give the FDA more insight into the use of the pathway.
Supporters say the new pathway would offer a respite from overly cumbersome FDA rules, especially for patients who can’t get into clinical trials or feel they don’t have time. Critics point out there is already an existing FDA program for those kinds of patients, and agency staff approve some 99 percent of the requests they receive. They also say that carving the FDA out of the drug oversight process could make desperate patients vulnerable to bad actors.
Despite the bill’s uncertain future, advocates were quick to cheer the bill’s passage Wednesday.
“The ‘Right to Try’ bill gives terminally ill patients the freedom to try experimental drugs that might extend their life in a safe and dignified way,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). “We worked very closely with President Trump and Vice President Pence to pass this bill out of the House with a strong bipartisan vote, and we encourage the Senate to take this bill up quickly so we can get it signed into law.”