CSC on Capitol Hill

October 8, 2014

On Tuesday, September 30th, Cancer Support Community, along with various other members of the Partnership for Part D Access, a coalition of organizations working toward a collective mission to preserve Medicare beneficiary access to vital medications, attended briefings on Capitol Hill to express their perspectives on the importance of preserving the six protected classes of drugs under Medicare Part D and to urge Congress to maintain the protected status of these six classes.

Under current policy, individuals with Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage are guaranteed access to “all or substantially all” drugs within six protected classes: anti-cancer, anti-convulsant, antidepressants, antipsychotic, immunosuppressant, and HIV and AIDS drugs. Medications in these classes help manage health conditions such as mental illness, organ transplants, epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, lupus, HIV, and cancer.

In January 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed changes that would remove this protected status for two of the drug classes—antidepressants and immunosuppressants. The agency’s proposal also left open the possibility of further exclusions of additional classes in coming years. Due to the efforts of the Partnership for Part D Access, patient advocacy organizations and other affected stakeholders, CMS withdrew their proposal.

CSC applauds CMS for withdrawing the proposal and continues its work with the Partnership for Part D Access to highlight the need to preserve the six protected classes policy.

Cancer Support Community participated in the September 30th briefings on Capitol Hill to discuss the importance of the protected classes for Medicare beneficiaries facing cancer diagnoses. Joanne Buzaglo, Ph. D.,  Vice President of Research and Training at CSC’s Research and Training Institute (RTI) spoke on along with other representatives from the Partnership for Part D Access, including Dr. Nicole Brandt (UMB School of Pharmacy), Dr. Matthew Cooper (MedStar Georgetown), Dr. Raymond Martins (Whitman-Walker Health), and Dr. Jeanie Tse (Institute for Community Living). The panel also included the brave and insightful voices of Trudy Lapin, an individual living with bipolar disorder, and Carlton Ziegler, an individual living with epilepsy.

During the briefings, Dr. Buzaglo spoke about the importance of treating “the whole patient,” the complexity of cancer treatments, particularly for those with multiple diagnoses of cancer and other chronic diseases (RTI’s Cancer Experience Registry data show that people with cancer over the age of 65 report an average of 2-3 additional “comorbidities” or diagnoses). She and other speakers stressed that with the increasing complexity of care and drug regimens for multiple illnesses among the elderly, that patients (and their physicians) need access to the full range of available medications in the protected classes. They noted that often, finding the right medications is a process of trial and error, and that some drugs may cause varying side effects or interact with other medications a patient requires. Finally, there was a strong underlying theme around mental illness and the critical importance of having a full range of options for treatment of depression, not only because depression and mental illness affect the quality of life of so many people but also because of their impact on health and cost-related outcomes.

For more in-depth information about CSC’s position on this issue, see our letter to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of CMS on  the Policy & Advocacy section of our website at For more information on this issue, please see the Partnership for Part D Access website.