Congressional Plasma Caucus formed to address concerns of constituents

04/25/2024

In 2023, a new congressional caucus was formed for plasma-related issues. A congressional caucus is a group of government officials, both Senators and Representatives, who come together often even bipartisan to pursue shared goals. The Plasma Caucus, for example, is chaired by Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Scott Peters (D-CA) and is one of the most recently formed, though caucuses themselves have existed since the early 1800s. These types of working groups are an opportunity for elected officials to meet together with other elected officials from across the nation who share common policy objectives. Throughout the history of the American government, these caucuses have proven to be effective in spurring action around a given political issue, ultimately shaping much of the legislation that gets to the floor, making them essential to support issues that are important to American citizens.

So why would plasma be among these important issues for Americans? There are 125,000 people in the United States who need access to plasma-derived therapies every month to treat a number of rare conditions, including those with primary immunodeficiencies (PI) who have immune systems that do not function properly and rely upon regular, lifelong immunoglobulin (Ig) replacement therapy to protect them from life-threatening infections. Because plasma therapies are limited in supply due to reliance on human donations and must go through rigorous production to ensure product safety, Ig therapies are very expensive. Since they are incredibly expensive to produce, insurance companies are incentivized to look for ways not to have to cover them. There are additional barriers created by Medicare coverage rules that require legislation to address. For example, in 2023, after years of advocacy by the Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF), legislation was passed to create a permanent benefit to allow individuals with PI to receive IVIG at home. 

Because the treatments are plasma-derived, they are known as biologics, which means there is no chemical alternative to manufacture them, and every product is unique, even if it can treat the same condition. Having an adequate supply of source plasma from donations is also important to these patients. Ensuring the federal and state regulations provide adequate safety requirements without causing unnecessary burdens on plasma centers is essential to supporting the expansion of plasma donation centers across the country to help increase supply.

The priorities of the Plasma Caucus are to raise awareness about these challenges and the constituents they impact. The main platform a caucus group has to do this is by educating lawmakers about chronic and life-threatening conditions, plasma supply, and safety initiatives. Hosting briefings brings together important stakeholders, from plasma donors to users to manufacturers, who all use their voices to share their perspectives and influence policymaking. 

This week, the Plasma Caucus held a briefing to educate legislative offices about the challenges faced by patients reliant on plasma therapies. They specifically highlighted and garnered support for a bill on access to immunoglobulin infusions for patients on Medicare in skilled nursing facilities. This bill removes the disincentive imposed on skilled nursing facilities (SNF) to treat Medicare patients with PI by taking Ig therapy out of the daily rate for SNF care and allowing for an additional payment for their Ig therapy. Because of the high cost of Ig therapy, Medicare patients are being denied access to SNF care or are admitted to SNFs and denied their needed therapy. This has resulted in unnecessarily long hospital stays, increased costs, poor health outcomes, and even preventable deaths. IDF advocates met with legislators on April 23 to support the PI Post Acute Access Act, HR 3017. Please join IDF in advocating for this legislation through this action alert

You can also support the Plasma Caucus by urging members to join the caucus at this action alert. Consider using your voice and exercising your right as a citizen by contacting your legislator today!

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