Read this detailed recap/tribute to Geraldine Ferraro by Ann Law for Bizmology.com:
Geraldine Ferraro leaves cancer research, health reform legacy
March 28th, 2011
A symbol of progress for women in US politics, former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro died Saturday at the age of 75. Her death, caused by complications from blood cancer multiple myeloma, not only reminds the nation of her landmark nomination as the first female vice presidential candidate, but also casts attention on her efforts to further cancer research and make an impact on health reform.
Ferraro survived with the bone marrow cancer for 12 years, an amazing feat in itself as treatment options are limited, and many myeloma patients succumb to the disease within a few years. After undergoing therapy with the drug thalidomide, Ferraro disclosed her condition to the public in 2001 and took on the task of trying to convince federal officials to increase funding for research on the disease.
Ferraro’s condition went back and forth between active cancer and remission several times, and while undergoing expensive treatments, she also became a spokesperson for greater access to top-notch health care treatments for all US citizens, regardless of their financial status or professional position.
According to this Forbes article, manufacturer Celgene gradually raised the price of thalidomide to about $2,500 per month after its effectiveness in cancer treatment was discovered. (Such high prices are commonplace for cancer and rare disease treatments, though thalidomide had actually been around for decades.) Celgene later released an improved version, Revlimid, which was even more expensive.
Ferraro took part in the clinical trials for Revlimid at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institutein 2003, and underwent a stem cell transplant in 2005. She later began taking a newer maintenance drug, Velcade, made by Millenium Pharmaceuticals. Similarly expensive new drugs for rare blood cancers include Gleevec (Novartis) and Rituxan (Genentech).
While taking Velcade, which cost about $1,000 per twice-weekly injection, Ferraro stated “What bothers me is that what’s available to me is not available to every person who has cancer in this country and it should be.”
Her sentiments at that time strongly echo statements made by another politician who succumbed to cancer: Senator Ted Kennedy, who was a great proponent of universal health care prior to his death in 2009. Kennedy stated that “Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to. This is the cause of my life.”
What is notable about Kennedy and Ferraro is that while both received an extremely high quality of care due to their personal financial resources and their government health benefits, neither simply accepted the care as their due rewards. Both were bothered by the fact that many Americans are uninsured or unable to pay for quality treatment, and both took the challenge of altering those circumstances to heart.
Unfortunately, the costs of researching and developing new cancer and rare disease drugs are high, and many companies feel justified in passing the costs along to customers to turn a profit. A normal business philosophy in most industries, but when it comes to health, putting a price on quality care (and therefore longer life extensions for ill patients) is a difficult pill to swallow. And while drug companies do have charity programs for costly medications, many patients still don’t receive the best treatments available.
Controlling such costs is a complex challenge in all nations, but the US spends more on pharmaceuticals than any other, and as Ferraro pointed out in a 2007 Newsweek editorial, price controls in other countries are effective at keeping costs from skyrocketing. With health reform in the public spotlight, it is an opportune time to increase discussions on how the drug pricing system in the US can be improved.
In the words of the late Geraldine Ferraro, “If my disease has taught me anything, it’s that the price of silence is too high.”
I have highlighted parts of the article I feel are important, and not common knowledge. Well done, Ms. Law!
Feel good and keep smiling! Pat