The Political Front: National ALS Advocacy Conference

The National ALS Advocacy Conference  

(May 26, 2020 – June 3, 2020)

The National ALS Advocacy Conference was virtual this year! The Martha Olson-Fernandez Foundation (MOFF) attended two days of the virtual event. Continue reading to get the inside scoop on the political interests of the ALS community.

What is The National ALS Advocacy Conference?

The National ALS Advocacy Conference is a week-long event in which patient advocacy groups lobby to raise disease awareness, present funding requests, and push policy initiatives that will support the ALS patient community. The event has a similar structure each year:

  • Daily conferences are held that discuss ALS research updates, ALS community needs,  specific policy initiatives, and congressionally appointed fund requests for the year.
  • ALS patients and their families visit the offices of members of Congress to personally tell their stories and request support for the funding or policy initiatives that will benefit the ALS community.
Who were the main players in the “ALS community” during the 2020 ALS Advocacy Conference?
  • Muscular Dystrophy Association
  • I AM ALS
  • Team Gleason
  • ALS Association
  • Les Turner Foundation
  • American Academy of Neurology
  • National Health Council
  • National Organization for Rare Disorders
What were the main “asks” of the ALS community for FY 2021? (The requests that are placed in May 2020 pertain to the fiscal year (FY) 2021).

The ALS community is advocating for the following public policy priorities in FY 2021:

  • ALS Disability Insurance Access Act (S. 578/ H.R.1407): Request to waive 5-month waiting period for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This Act builds off the previous motion passed in 2000 that waived the 24-month Medicare waiting period. This is an urgent agenda item and currently has support from 61 senators and 238 representatives.
  • Expand Access to Home Infusion for Medicare Beneficiaries
  • Promising Pathway Act: Proposal to amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to establish a time-limited provisional approval pathway for certain drugs and regulated medical products.
  • Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act: Creates a pilot program to support expanded access programs. Will dedicate $75 million available in FY 2021 and FY 2022 toward this program.
  • Justice for ALS Veterans Act (S. 3091/H.R. 4748): This bill ensures that surviving spouses of veterans with ALS receive fair dependency and indemnity compensation.
  • Request for $40 million congressionally appointed dollars for the Department of Defense ALS Research Program.
  • Request for $10 million congressionally appointed dollars for the National ALS Registry.
  • Request for $44.7 billion congressionally appointed dollars for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
What politicians are supporting the ALS cause?

The below list and commentaries provide a snapshot into the wide-ranging political support the ALS community has garnered:

  • Senator Mike Braun (Indiana) is championing the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act. In the virtual meeting on May 26th he stated: “I don’t think there is a good reason why this should not pass.”
  • Representative Peter Welch (Vermont) is supporting the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act. His commentary during the virtual meeting was, “Congress is a tough institution to move,” but the ALS community’s “long term advocacy is working.” He also stated that we currently have 238 supporters in the House, if we obtain 290, it “can be put on a consent calendar.” In lay terms, this would deem the Act as a topic that is not controversial and does not need to be discussed and can be accepted without a vote.
  • Representative Jason Crow (Colorado) affirmed that the ALS community “has a friend and an ally in Congress.” He is a prior Army Ranger whose wife’s cousin passed away from ALS.
  • Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (New England)
  • Congressman Mike Quigley (Illinois)
How do the 2020 ALS community funding requests compare to historical asks?
  • To give you an idea of how much the ALS community’s political involvement has grown, in 1998 the government allotted $15 million dollars total to ALS research initiatives.
  • In FY 2020, the ALS community requested $20 million congressionally appointed dollars for the Department of Defense ALS Research Program. This was request was granted.
  • In FY 2020, the ALS community requested $10 million congressionally appointed dollars for the National ALS Registry/Biorepository development. This request was granted.
  • In FY 2020, the ALS community requested $105 congressionally appointed dollars for the NIH. The request was granted.
Conclusion

The 2020 National ALS Advocacy Conference was marked by monumental support and engagement from members of Congress. Despite the virtual platform, the ALS patient voices and actions could not be ignored. One key takeaway from the conference was the importance of forming coalitions with other patient groups. It is by unifying the patient voices, and combining them with the urges of doctors in their respective fields, that disease-community demands will be answered. This year, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association formed key alliances with the ALS advocacy community on specific interests.

Thank you to all the parties involved in this monumental conference. Your efforts are saving lives. More information can be found on the ALSA, MDA and I AM ALS websites.

Sponsors

The main sponsors of the National ALS Advocacy Conference were the following pharmaceutical companies: Alexion, Amylyx, Biogen, biohaven pharmaceuticals, Genentech, Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America, and Soleo Health.