By Gerald Felando

Affordable, quality health care is a mainstay topic in today’s media and will continue to be, especially here in Sacramento. As a dentist, cancer survivor and former member of the California Assembly, I know the importance of creating policy that is patient-centered. The delivery of optimal health care for patients is constantly evolving and recent developments are some of the most profound I’ve witnessed in my career.  However, these futuristic changes are also bringing concerning consequences related to patient safety and welfare.

Innovative, scientific advancements have led to the creation of more effective prescription drugs.  Drugs are now being created from living organisms to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, MS, Parkinson’s and many other debilitating illnesses with remarkable results.

These advanced drugs, known as biologics, contain an incredibly high level of molecular complexity compared to traditional drugs that are chemical-based.  And unlike chemical drugs, there is no generic form of a biologic. Biosimilars are similar to the biologic they aim to replicate, but they are not the same and they are not generic because do not utilize the same living cell line, production process, or raw material as the biologic.  Even the smallest difference in the structure of a biologic medicine and its attempted copy can have a significant impact on a patient.

Patients, physicians and pharmacists have to work collaboratively when battling a serious disease or sickness, especially when the patient is being treated with complex biotech drugs. Because communication between the three parties is so critically important, the California Legislature has introduced a bill that puts safeguards in place when it comes to the substitution of biosimilar medications.

Senate Bill 598 ensures patient safety by requiring basic notification when biosimilars are substituted for biologics, giving pharmacists five days after the switch occurs to notify the patient’s physician.

The merits of notification relating to patient care should be obvious. Physicians have to know what medicines their patients are taking.  If a pharmacist substitutes one complex drug for another, the physician should be made aware – it is in the best interest of the patient.  This is even more true in the case of biologics and biosimilars that are treating debilitating diseases where there is no room to recover lost ground.

Leaving patients and physicians in the dark as to when a substitution occurs is spinning the health care roulette wheel. Have we sunk to the point in our country where we are ready to put a patient in jeopardy because a pharmacist and physician are not communicating?  I certainly hope not.

Biosimilars will be available to patients at lower costs and the cost-savings are very important. As someone who treats patients from all economic backgrounds and has undergone cancer treatments myself, I want patients to receive the best care for the lowest cost, but never at the price of sacrificing their health and safety.

Patients and their families deserve and expect to receive the best health care in the world.  And extraordinary advancements are being made every day to make that goal a reality.  Let’s ensure patient safety across California when it comes to biologic and biosimilar medicines and require pharmacists to notify physicians when a life-saving medicine is switched for something else.

Gerald N. Felando served in the California State Assembly from 1976-1992.  He currently resides in San Pedro.  Felando is a consumer & senior advocate for state and federal public policy.