While I was browsing Twitter today, I saw several tweets talking about a new bill that was introduced last week that would help millions of people that are affected by blindness or low vision be able to understand their conditions better, and even potentially have these conditions be cured in the next several years. Even better, this bill will cost a negligible amount of money for taxpayers, and can only benefit them in the long run. Today, I will be answering the who, what, when, where, and why of HR 6421- The Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act.
Who is involved in this?
The Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act is sponsored by Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas, and co-sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (a Republican from Georgia), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (a Republican from Florida), and Rep. Sanford Bishop (a Democrat from Georgia). The National Institute of Health will receive the funding from this bill and decide how it is spent- more on that later.
What is The Faster Treatments and Cures For Eye Diseases Act?
The Faster Treatments and Cures For Eye Diseases Act, also known as HR 6421, is a bipartisan bill that would dramatically increase research funding for conditions that cause blindness and severely impaired vision. Examples of conditions that would receive research funding include macular degeneration, glaucoma, sickle-cell anemia retinopathy, other retinal diseases, and combat related eye trauma for veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan (among other areas). Up to one billion dollars would go towards this research over the course of four years, but the total amount of funding per year would not exceed $250 million. This funding would be issued using something the Foundation Fighting Blindness developed called Eye-Bonds, which would finance packages of loans for research purposes.
When was it introduced?
The Faster Treatments and Cures For Eye Diseases Act was introduced on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. It has been referred to the House committee on Energy and Commerce. Read the full text of the bill on the official US Congress website here.
Where is it now?
HR 6421 was introduced in the House of Representatives and will have to pass there before it can go to the Senate for voting. Follow the status of the bill by visiting the official US Congress website here.
Why was it created?
According to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, four million adults and half a million children are blind due to an eye related disease or condition. Most research done for eye conditions never makes the transition from lab research to clinical trials due to a lack of funding, so HR 6421 would help to bridge the gap between those two areas. It’s worth noting that the number of people that could be impacted this research may be higher, since it’s impossible to account for every single case of a certain eye condition. Read more about vision impairment in my post for World Sight Day 2017 here.
Who benefits from The Faster Treatments and Cures For Eye Diseases Act?
The people who benefit most from The Faster Treatments and Cures For Eye Diseases Act aren’t just the ones who live with these eye conditions. People with blindness and low vision that stems from other causes will benefit from the increased understanding of blindness and visual impairment, and eventually research for their conditions may be funded as well. Outside of clinical applications, people will have a better idea of what these conditions look like, which can lead to improved educational supports and (my favorite) assistive technology. Other conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease could also potentially be impacted by these research studies. To learn more about eye and brain based vision conditions, read my post about life with double vision here.
What if I am scared of a cure for my condition?
Many people that I interact with that have blindness or low vision are terrified of the idea of a cure for their condition. After all, they are so used to seeing with impaired vision, the concept of seeing perfectly without any aid is mind blowing. While it’s impossible to predict when or if a cure will be found for a specific eye condition, contributing to research will help to increase the amount of information available for a certain condition, with the hope of applying it to other conditions as well. Read more about why I like having friends with similar conditions to mine here.
When would researchers get funding?
The government itself does not choose which projects would get funding- this would be done by the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institute of Health (NIH). There isn’t a set limit on how many projects would be funded, and the NIH would have no risk funding these projects. Even more interesting, the Congressional Budget Office is expected to score the cost of the legislation at near zero, meaning that taxpayers would not be impacted by this legislation either. There is no set timeline publicly available as to when researchers can apply for the funding.
Where would this help the most?
Blindness is not just a problem that Americans have to deal with, as there are millions of others around the world that deal with vision loss due to the same eye diseases and conditions. Researching treatment options for these conditions can greatly impact people from all over the world, and especially those with limited medical, technology, or educational resources available to help them. It’s hard to say if there will be one specific age group, ethnic background, or gender that benefits the most from this research, since blindness affects so many different people- anyone can become visually impaired at any point in their life.
Why should I call my representatives?
By calling your congressional representatives, you can make your opinions known and your voice clear about your support of HR 6421, or The Faster Treatments and Cures For Eye Diseases Act. Your message does not have to be long, just leave a message saying your name and that you support the bill. While it may not seem like much, sharing your thoughts on this bill is especially important given that it will not receive as much media coverage as a topic like healthcare, so not many people may know about it. Read my tips about talking to elected officials on the phone here and talking to elected officials in person here.
Hopefully this post has answered the most common questions about this bill and helped to show why it is important. Thank you for taking the time to learn about HR 6421, also known as The Faster Treatments and Cures For Eye Diseases Act!