CONGRESSMAN LEONARD LANCE HOSTS ROUNDTABLE AT SUSAN G. KOMEN NORTH JERSEY TO ADDRESS URGENT CONVERNS OF THE BREAST CANCER SUPPORT COMMUNITY

Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ07) recently introduced two important measures that address urgent concerns of the breast cancer support community: H.R. 2540, the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act and H.R. 2739, the Cancer Drug Coverage Parity Act. And last Monday, at Susan G. Komen North Jersey’s headquarters in Summit, he brought members of the medical community, breast cancer survivors, advocates and supporters to the table to discuss the state of the fight against breast cancer, and his work in Washington to combat the disease.

“All of us are working out of love for mothers, daughters, sisters and wives,” Lance told attendees at the roundtable discussion. “We have championed many important ideas and collaborated on various policies to combat this disease. These two measures I have introduced in Congress will give patients more tools and resources in the fight. These types of policies are the bipartisan, practical solutions that can make a positive difference in the lives of many.”

H.R. 2540, the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act will require that patients be informed of the availability and coverage of breast reconstruction and prostheses. Since 1998, Federal law requires that insurance companies cover reconstructive surgery and prostheses, whether it is at the time of surgery, or long afterwards. But studies have shown that many women are unaware of their options. Says Lance, “This bill intends to put into place an education campaign to ensure that women coping with breast cancer, especially those of ethnic and minority status, are made more fully aware of their options, and as a result, gain more control over their health care decisions.”

Assemblywoman Nancy F. Muñoz (LD-21) spoke on her resolution in the State Assembly urging support for H.R. 2540, and similar legislation on the state level that mandated the goals of H.R. 2739. “Too many women suffering from breast cancer, particularly in minority communities, are inadequately advised of reconstructive options. I cannot understate the importance of the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act to women across New Jersey and the United States, and applaud Congressman Lance in his leadership on this issue.”

A letter sent to Congressman Lance from Dr. Judith Salerno, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Susan G. Komen just prior to the roundtable event, pledged the organization’s support of the bill and applauded Lance for his leadership. “While the decision to undergo breast reconstruction or use prostheses is a personal decision, all women should be made aware of their options and coverage,” said Salerno. “Unfortunately, studies have found that too few women are fully informed of their options—especially racial and ethnic minority groups. This legislation complements the work currently being done in communities across the country by Komen Affiliates ensuring that all women have access to high quality, affordable care.”

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, an organization deeply committed to educating women about the availability of procedures that can support their breast cancer recovery, was represented by Dr. Gregory Greco, who noted that the wounds of breast cancer are not just physical; they are emotional, psychological and spiritual. “More and more, healthcare providers and patient champions understand that repairing cancer’s non-physical damage is part of our job as members of the cancer team,” said Greco. “For many women, that sort of healing, the kind that comes when someone feels whole again, can only be fully recognized through the reconstructive process. The Breast Cancer Patient Education Act Coalition works to improve patient outcomes and quality of life.”

Patient advocate Dora Arias, Founder & Executive Director of Curémonos, which provides education, support and advocacy to medically-underserved women with breast cancer, remarked that breast cancer patients, regardless of their race or ethnicity, yearn to regain a ‘normal’ life after treatment. “The Breast Cancer Patient Education Act,” confirmed Arias, “will ensure that all women in this country are informed of their breast reconstruction options and can exercise their right to make informed decisions regarding their treatment.”

This month, Lance also introduced H.R. 2739, the Cancer Drug Coverage Parity Act, which would require health insurance plans that cover traditional chemotherapy to provide equally favorable coverage for orally-administered anti-cancer medications. This bill is a critical step towards improving access to anti-cancer drugs by requiring companies to cover patient-administered and physician-administered anti-cancer drugs at the same cost. Correcting this disparity in coverage will enable cancer patients to make healthcare decisions based on the best information and the best course of care available to them, rather than on cost and/or accessibility to treatment.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Lance reinforced his conviction that both these initiatives are bi-partisan in nature and address issues that potentially affect every member of Congress. He expressed his hope that “this is where the nation will come together” and that he will “work in Congress to bring these priorities and all priorities of the breast cancer community to action in Washington.”

MUÑOZ COST SAVING BILL ALLOWING GENERIC BIOLOGICAL MEDS CONTINUES TO ADVANCE

Legislation to reduce the price of expensive biological medications for people who need the drugs for treatment of serious diseases by allowing pharmacists to substitute generics today won General Assembly approval. The bill, A-2477/S-1705, sponsored by Assembly Deputy Republican Leader Nancy F. Muñoz, now goes to the governor for his consideration.

Biological drugs (biologics) are created from living cells (animal, yeast, plant) rather than through traditional chemistry, which produces chemical pills. They are used to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, MS and other debilitating diseases. While a (chemical) generic medication is identical to a brand named drug, replication of an identical biologic by another manufacturer is nearly impossible.

“The cost of these drugs often places a financial burden on patients who rely on them to treat very serious diseases and painful conditions,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “Generic versions are just now becoming available which is great news because they can significantly reduce costs, giving more patients access to these vital medications.

“At the same time, we need to make sure pharmacists and physicians are communicating with each other since these products are more complex than chemical drugs and it’s not yet certain what kind of a reaction a patient may have from a generic version,” she continued. “This bill enhances the safety and effectiveness of biologics while providing more treatment options to patients.”

Muñoz said measure is needed to ensure that once the FDA has approved a biosimilar as “interchangeable” with a biologic, a law is in place to address the issue of substitution. Currently, the only biosimilar product approved by the FDA in the U.S. is Zarxio. Manufactured by Sandoz, it is the generic version of Neupogen, made by Amgen, Inc. It is used to treat patients with certain types of cancers and related illnesses, but has not yet been approved as an “interchangeable” product. “Interchangeable” means that pharmacists may substitute a biosimilar or generic for a biological drug.

Under the bill, a pharmacist who dispenses an interchangeable biosimilar is required to notify the prescribing physician of the substitution within five business days after dispensing the medications and provide the name and manufacturer of the product.

Muñoz noted that only Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, Delaware, Florida, Utah, Oregon and Massachusetts have passed similar legislation. Should the measure become law and, as more biosimilars become available, New Jersey would be at the forefront of providing cost effective medications for patients with debilitating diseases. She added that both generic and brand manufacturers support the bill.

ASSEMBLY APPROVES MUÑOZ-DANCER BILL MAKING ANIMAL FIGHTING A CRIME

Legislation Assembly Deputy Republican Leader Nancy F. Muñoz and Assemblyman Ron Dancer sponsor that revises and expands the state’s animal cruelty laws to criminalize animal fighting today received General Assembly approval. The bill increases the level of crime for certain offenses, establishes new criminal and civil offenses and increases criminal and civil penalties. It now goes to the governor for his consideration.

Specifically, the measure, A-3037/2547/3596/2422/S-736, criminalizes animal fighting and leading an animal fighting network. The latter will be considered “racketeering activity” under the state’s anti-racketeering law.

“Training, promoting and selling animals for the purpose of fighting for amusement or financial gain is despicable and extremely inhumane,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “The injuries inflicted on these poor animals, especially dogs, are very severe, if not fatal. Those that lose the fight but survive are either tortured to death by their owners or left with debilitating injuries.

“Animal fighting, in particular, dog fighting is a secret, underground activity, but it happens everywhere in towns all over New Jersey,” she continued. “It’s a highly profitable, sadistic blood sport and anyone who operates, promotes or in any way participates in this activity should be justly punished.”

“Animals used in such fights are kept in horrific conditions. They are starved, drugged and beaten to make them aggressive. No animal deserves to be abused or killed for so called ‘entertainment,’” said Dancer, R-Ocean, Burlington, Middlesex and Monmouth. “This blood sport is a brutal, violent practice that also breeds other serious crimes such as gambling, drug dealing, weapons offenses and money laundering. Increased fines and penalties will help protect these defenseless animals and punish their abusers.”Under the bill, assets or property used in animal fighting activities will be seized or forfeited.

MUÑOZ BILL ELIMINATING PENALTY FOR MEDICAID APPLICANTS WHO MAKE SMALL GIFTS WINS ASSEMBLY PANEL APPROVAL

Residents applying for long-term care benefits under Medicaid who gift small amounts of their money to others in the five years before eligibility is determined will not be penalized for the transfers under legislation Assembly Deputy Republican Leader Nancy F. Muñoz sponsors. The bill, A-3760, will allow residents to transfer up to $$500 per month during the five-year “look-back” period for determining Medicaid eligibility for long-term care services.

“Many people legitimately and routinely give financial gifts to family, friends, religious organizations and charities,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “No one can predict the future. You can’t possibly know what your financial or medical needs will be five years down the road. People should not be penalized for their generosity if the time comes that they require Medicaid to pay for long-term care.

“Current state law is unclear about gifting money to others,” she continued. “This measure will ensure residents are protected when applying for Medicaid assistance should the need arise.”

The measure, which was approved today by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, clarifies current state Medicaid law. Since many people try to “hide” their assets by transferring them to another individual so they qualify for Medicaid long-term care benefits, federal and state Medicaid law requires a five-year look-back period from the date of a person’s application to determine whether an authorized transfer took place.

Federal law allows states to exclude certain transfers, such as “de minimis” or minor gifts, on the assumption that the person is not giving away the money in an attempt to qualify for future Medicaid benefits. An individual may be denied coverage for unauthorized asset transfers. New Jersey, however, does not have a clear standard regarding such transfers. Those decisions are currently made by county welfare agencies.

MUÑOZ BILL TO PROTECT SEXUAL ASSAULT VICTIMS WINS SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVAL

Legislation Assembly Deputy Republican Leader Nancy F. Muñoz sponsors that provides sexual assault victims with protection against their offenders won approval from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Monday. The bill was unanimously approved by the Assembly in February.The “Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015” (A-4078/S-2686), allow victims to obtain protection without filing criminal charges.

“Sexual assault is physically and psychologically devastating; and victims are often embarrassed or feel they are in some way to blame for the attack,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “As a result, only a small percentage of victims file criminal charges. Unless they report the crime, they cannot obtain a restraining order. This leaves their attacker free to harass or assault them again.”

The bill allows the court to issue a temporary protective order regardless of whether the alleged victim has filed criminal charges. It prohibits the alleged offender from having any contact or communication, including personal, written, telephone or via electronic device, with victims and their family members, employers, and employees.

Under current law, restraining orders are predominately used for victims of domestic violence.

In addition, the measure prohibits stalking, following or harassing, including cyber-harassing, the alleged victim.

SENATE PANEL APPROVES MUÑOZ ALS AWARENESS LEGISLATION

A resolution sponsored by Deputy Republican Leader Nancy F. Muñoz to increase public awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” today was released by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.“ALS is a horrific disease which takes a physical and emotional toll on those afflicted and their family,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “Although there still is no cure, people who are diagnosed today and their families need to know that advancements in research and improved medical care allows many patients to live longer, more productive lives.

“Last summer’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge brought an enormous amount of attention to this debilitating disease,” she continued. “Our objective is to maintain the momentum that was generated and make sure we continue our efforts to educate the public about ALS.”

Muñoz’s resolution, AJR-67/SJR-51, designates the third Wednesday in May as ALS Awareness Day, and the month of May as ALS Awareness Month in New Jersey. The annual Walk to Defeat ALS, the ALS Association’s national signature event, will be held at various locations in the state during the month of May.

SENATE PANEL ADVANCES MUÑOZ COST SAVING BIOLOGIC MED BILL

Legislation Assembly Deputy Republican Leader Nancy F. Muñoz sponsors to reduce the cost of medications that treat debilitating diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS) by allowing pharmacists to substitute generic (biosimilar) forms of biological drugs was advanced today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

Biological products (biologics) are medications created from living cells (animal, yeast, plant) rather than through traditional chemistry, which produces chemical pills. They are used to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, MS and other debilitating diseases. While a (chemical) generic medication is identical to a brand named drug, replication of an identical biologic by another manufacturer is nearly impossible.

“Generic versions of these drugs which are used to treat potentially life-threatening diseases and painful conditions, can significantly reduce costs, giving more patients access to these vital medications,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “At the same time, since a pharmacist may substitute a similar form of the medication, it’s important that doctors are aware of such substitutions. This measure ensures the safety and effectiveness of biological drugs.”

Muñoz said the legislation, A-2477, is needed to ensure that once the FDA has approved a biosimilar as “interchangeable” with a biologic, a law is in place to address the issue of substitution. Currently, the only biosimilar product approved by the FDA in the U.S. is Zarxio. Manufactured by Sandoz, it is the generic version of Neupogen, made by Amgen, Inc. It is used to treat patients with certain types of cancers and related illnesses, but has not yet been approved as an “interchangeable” product. “Interchangeable” means that pharmacists may substitute a biosimilar for a biologic.

Under the bill, a pharmacist who dispenses an interchangeable biosimilar is required to notify the prescribing physician of the substitution within five business days after dispensing the medications and provide the name and manufacturer of the product.

Muñoz noted that only Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, Delaware, Florida, Utah, Oregon and Massachusetts have passed similar legislation. Should the measure become law and, as more biosimilars become available, New Jersey would be at the forefront of providing cost effective medications for patients with debilitating diseases. She added that both generic and brand manufacturers support the bill.

MUÑOZ HOSTS KEAN UNIVERSITY ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Assemblywoman Nancy F. Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset, led a panel discussion today on domestic violence hosted by Kean University’s Center for History, Politics, & Policy. Muñoz organized the roundtable which included leading nursing organizations, practitioners and professors. The group discussed the education and role of nurses in dealing with domestic violence.“I am committed to addressing the issue of domestic violence and its far reaching effects on our society. I understand the unique and important position nurses occupy in our health system,” said Muñoz. “I want victims of domestic violence to know that they can openly discuss this issue with any nurse. The exchange of information and approaches used in counseling victims is a tremendous benefit for both nurses and those they treat.”

The roundtable included the following organizations: New Jersey League of Nursing; New Jersey State Nurses Association; Society of Psychiatric APN’s; New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault; New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women; New Jersey State School Nurses Association; Kean University School of Nursing; Rutgers University School of Nursing; Barnabas Health; and St. Joseph’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center.

REMEMBERING ALL WHO SERVED OUR NATION

On May 25, Americans at home and abroad will pause to observe Memorial Day.  Since the first observation on May 5, 1868, then called Declaration Day, it has been a day to remember, reflect upon, and appreciate those who sacrificed and gave their lives to defend our right to freedom in the United States.  We owe our thanks and honor to those who served in conflict to protect our land and to keep America the land of the free for over two hundred years.

Memorial Day is a time for remembrance for the men and women who fought in America’s battles, and we acknowledge the tremendous contributions of those serving in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and the Coast Guard.  There is another group that I would like to highlight, a group of service men and women who are often overlooked in the discussions about those who served our country.

Many associate the United States Merchant Marines with the role they play in the day-to-day operations on the seas in service of our national and global economies.  Rarely mentioned is the role Mariners have played in supporting our war efforts dating back to the American Revolution.  Since the time of the Revolutionary War through our current War on Terror, the Merchant Marines have carried critical supplies, equipment, and personnel to our Armed Forces, often through dangerous waters. The sacrifices of Mariners during World War II sailing through waters well-covered by German U-boats reflect the dangers that these servicemen encountered in duty to their country.  One of every twenty-four Mariners lost their lives during the war, by far the highest casualty rate of any service group.

Two crewmembers of the SS Stephen Hopkins—Captain Paul Buck and Midshipman Edwin Joseph O’Hara—were posthumously awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for their role in sinking the German commerce raider Stier.  Despite just one four-inch gun in defense against the heavily armed Nazi cruiser, the Hopkins crew sank the enemy’s ship, before going under itself.  The few American survivors floated on a lifeboat for more than a month before reaching the coast of Brazil.  Sadly, most of the crew lost their lives fighting to keep the seas free.

The freedoms that we enjoy were made possible by those individuals who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  Our Armed Forces continue to maintain the same standard of commitment and honor that was declared over two hundred years ago.   It is my hope that we will expand our acknowledgements of the successes of the brave Merchant Mariners by passing Assembly Resolution 105, which honors the United States Merchant Marine.  On Monday, let us reflect on the sacrifices of all who died in service to defending our way of life, so that freedom can continue to ring across our great nation.

 

MUÑOZ RESOLUTION DESIGNATING JULY 1 AS ‘ U.S. CADET NURSE CORPS DAY’ APPROVED BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY

A resolution sponsored by Assembly Republican Nancy F. Muñoz memorializing the contributions of the women in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps earned approval yesterday from the General Assembly. Muñoz’s resolution, AJR-84, designates July 1 of every year as “U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Day.”

“The Cadet Nurse Corps paved the way for improvements in educational standards and training,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “By opening the nursing careers to more than 124,000 young women when there was a desperate need for nursing, the program changed the face of nursing in the United States.”

American nursing schools, which previously only accepted white students, were integrated by the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, which recruited thousands of African-American women nurses.

“During the war, with so many nurses committed to military service, there was a critical shortage of skilled nurses on the home front. Within two years of the formation of the corps, Cadet Nurses accounted for 80 percent of American nursing care. These young nurses were World War II heroes in every sense. We should celebrate their efforts and preserve their memory,” said Muñoz, noting that her mother was a Cadet Nurse, trained in one of the final classes at the end of World War II.