Whitcraft and Baldwin

WEBSTER— In 1979, Diane Whitcraft, at age 28, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). More specifically, Whitcraft suffers from what is called relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), a form of MS which usually occurs in a person in their 20s or 30s. 

The unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system disrupts communication from brain to body. It can cause a variety of debilitations including walking difficulties, numbness or tingling, spasticity weakness, vision problems, pain, fatigue, balance problems, impaired coordination and more. Remitting relapsing is the most common form of MS; others are primary progressive and secondary progressive. There is no cure.

Whitcraft suffers mainly from walking difficulties, impaired coordination, spasticity and weakness which caused her to begin walking with a cane at the age of 33.

In 1993, a drug hit the market called Betaseron. Betaseron is a prescription medication used to reduce the number of relapses in people with Whitcraft’s type of MS.

Diane began using the drug soon after its introduction. Its annual retail cost was then $11,532. 

Three-fourths of all MS disease modifying therapies have had a price increase, on average, more than once per year. Currently, the retail price of Betaseron is over $90,000.00 a year. Whitcraft ceased usage on January 5, 2017.

The rise of prescription drug costs is, of course, not a new topic for Americans. In a recent study conducted by CBS, relief is not on the way. The article states, “drug costs are projected to rise 9.9 [in 2017], compared with 10.9 percent in 2016. By comparison, wages are expected to rise just 2.5 percent in 2017.” 

The rising costs have carved a large chunk out of many Americans’ savings accounts and even retirement funds. Even more discouraging to many people is that despite congressional investigation into the rising costs, little if anything has been accomplished. 

The question has been asked, Why does this keeping happening? The answer is simply, the market allows it. 

Whitcraft asked herself earlier this year whether she should continue to take Betaseron and continue to allow it to drain their savings. “I felt very guilty that my chronic disease was going to drastically affect our finances,” she said.

Before leaving her position in 2008, Whitcraft was a community education coordinator and her health insurance covered the costs of her medication. However, the health benefits from her employment ran out when she turned 65 last fall, and the financial burden fell onto Diane and her husband, Lee. 

Betaseron falls into the category of a Tier 5 drug, a drug many insurance plans don’t cover due to its high price tag. Stating that the catastrophe of rising drug costs affects every American, Whitcraft said, “It is and must be a bipartisan issue.”

Earlier this year she received an email from the office of Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin). 

After becoming aware of Whitcraft’s condition, Baldwin brought “Diane from Webster, Wisconsin’s story” to Washington D.C. 

At a bi-partisan Senate Health Committee hearing in June, Baldwin went to bat for her constituents by promoting a bi-partisan act formulated by herself and Senator John McCain (R-Arizona).

At the hearing she said, “It is absolutely clear we have a problem with drug prices when price increases accounted for 100 percent of the pharmaceutical industry’s $8.7 million bump in earnings last year.

I fear it is about to get worse with the very partisan healthcare bill that is about to be brought to the Senate floor which I believe will make many, many, many, American’s pay a lot more for less care.”

She continued to explain that she has heard from many Wisconsinites that are struggling to afford the care they need for life-threatening illnesses. 

“Wisconsinites like Diane, Diane is from Webster, Wis., has recently had to stop taking her MS medicine that costs more than $90,000 annually today. She has seen her savings being  drained. 

“It’s why I had the opportunity to introduce the FAIR Drug Pricing Act with my colleague Senator John McCain to require basic transparency and accountability for drug companies.” 

Baldwin went on to explain that many drug companies argue that their reason for price increase is due to improvements.

“We have no way to verify this,” said Baldwin.

She added, “Our market is broken when people like Diane have to make these types of decisions.”  

John McCain is reported as stating, “This legislation would bring much-needed transparency to prescription drug prices – a policy that eight in 10 Americans support, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Transparency leads to accountability, and it is past time that mantra applied to the skyrocketing cost of prescription medication.”

This act is not the only piece of legislation that is being presented in Washington recently as McCain and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in January unveiled a bi-partisan effort to lower prices by making it legal for Americans to acquire prescription drugs from Canada. 

The legislation reads, “The Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act would allow individuals to safely import into the United States a personal supply of prescription drugs. Under the legislation, imported prescription drugs would have to be purchased from an approved Canadian pharmacy and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. Drugs imported under this bill would be the same dosage, form, and potency as drugs in the U.S., but at a significant savings to U.S. consumers.” 

In addition, Baldwin and Klobuchar are in the process of writing up another plan to make the transportation of prescription drugs from Canada into the U.S. legal. Whitcraft was invited to last month’s press conference in St. Paul to witness the Senators’ discussion.

Both legislations argue that by making this legal, the U.S. drug companies will feel the pressure of competition and be forced to offer affordable prices. 

Baldwin had this to say about Whitcraft and the issue of rising prescription drug costs, “It’s been a pleasure to get to know Diane and stand with her in our fight to lower prescription drug costs. I’ve been proud to share her story and I think her voice must be heard because it’s time Washington stopped leaving people behind and started helping people like Diane get ahead. That is exactly why I worked across party lines with John McCain to offer a solution to the problem of sky-high prescription drug prices.”

Last March, Whitcraft was in D.C. to attend the National MS Policy Planning Conference. While there she met with multiple representatives of our elected officials, including an assistant to Sean Duffy, to tell her story. 

“I do think people are listening. And, it feels good to be doing something. It gives my disease purpose. If we work together, we can stop these exorbitant prescription drug prices,” said Whitcraft. 

Diane is currently a District Area Leader for the MS Society and aims to build relationships on both sides of the political fence in order to make politicians aware of issues Americans, like herself, are facing. 

In addition to her work nationally, Whitcraft is striving to organize a self-help group in Burnett County and the surrounding counties for individuals who have MS.

Whitcraft explained, ”I belonged to a self-help group of individuals with MS, and greatly appreciated the opportunity to meet, share, listen, discuss and become aware of positive resources. I hope that people coping with MS in Burnett, Polk and Washburn counties are interested in such a group.” 

The first meeting date is scheduled for 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, September 12 at the Larsen Family Public Library in Webster. Please contact Diane for more information. Her email is dianewhitcraft@gmail.com and phone number is 763-742-8572.