Companion legislation, HB 1029 and SB 871, have been moving through the General Assembly this week as bill sponsors seek to allow patients with terminal or severely debilitating diseases, who have exhausted all other options, to partake in experimental treatments when recommended by a physician. 

Both the House Health Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee took up the respective bills this week. 

Last week, HB 1029 was subjected to rigorous scrutiny in the House Health Committee. In late May, the Senate Health Committee discussed the Senate companion bill, SB 871, and referred it to Senate Judiciary. On Tuesday, the House Health Committee voted unanimously to approve a PCS (proposed committee substitute) to HB 1029 and refer the bill to the House Appropriations Committee. 

“Some of the concerns you guys brought forward were addressed with the PCS,” said Rep. Allen Chesser, R-Nash, one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “We added a couple of definitions; we added an explicit exemption making sure that Medicaid would not be forced to pay for this.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee took up the Senate companion bill SB 871

“What this is is an expansion of current North Carolina law that we passed in 2015 and 2018 to provide certain patients the ability to try certain types of experimental treatments if they qualify as having a serious illness or certain debilitating conditions,” explained Sen. Benton Sawrey, R-Johnston, the bill’s primary sponsor. “What this expansion does is take that current North Carolina common law and applies individualized treatments such as individualized therapies, courses of treatment, biologics, and different types of medications. This is being considered in several other states in the country. It’s been passed in a handful of places. North Carolina obviously has a thriving biotech and biopharmaceutical sector. I think this will be a great catalyst and spur to some of our research we’re doing in North Carolina as well as providing options for patients who otherwise don’t have options and have to go to Europe or other places to seek treatment for certain types of illnesses. There is an amendment that I’m going to pass into the House bill. I’m glad to discuss that; it will be the same text as this, absent the appropriation provision.”

The committee voted to displace the bill and take up a related bill HB 98, Medical Freedom Act,. The committee then voted to approve a PCS to that bill completely removing the original language concerning COVID-19 vaccinations, and substituting the right to try language in its place before advancing the legislation.

“I’ve heard no opposition from anybody from DHHS, or any parties at all on this,” responded Sawrey to questions of support or opposition for the legislation.

The committee voted unanimously to amend HB 98 and refer the bill to Senate Rules Committee.

The Right to Try movement has been active for years, with advocates encouraging state and federal bodies to allow patients to try experimental treatments not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.