Connecticut Legislature Establishes Permanent Rare Disease Advisory Council

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Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law years-in-the-making legislation establishing a permanent Rare Disease Advisory Council (RDAC), effective July 1, 2022.

Lesley Bennett, Volunteer Ambassador for the Connecticut Rare Action Network of the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), praised the bi-partisan team of the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee, Chair Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and Ranking Member Rep. William Petit, for bringing the legislation to fruition.

“This RDAC will give patients, families, caregivers, health care providers, advocates, researchers, and other stakeholders an opportunity to make formal recommendations to state agencies and our legislature on ways to develop public policy and health care legislation that will improve the lives of those impacted by a rare disease in Connecticut,” Bennett said.

Connecticut-based Hope in Focus advocated over the years with the Rare Action Network for the establishment of the council. The state created a temporary rare disease task force in 2017 that never got off the ground.

This year, in a short legislative session – with lots of input from advocacy organizations, patients, caregivers, doctors, researchers, and advisory council members from other states – Connecticut’s governor signed into law House Bill 5500, now Section 48 of Public Act 22-58, establishing a permanent RDAC.

Laura Manfre, Hope in Focus Co-Founder and Board Chair, commended the action, saying it will bring much-needed awareness to rare diseases.

“Helping people living with rare disease all begins with awareness and Connecticut’s Rare Disease Advisory Council will help with that, and more, for the 7,000 known rare diseases affecting 25-30 million people, about 10 percent of the country’s population,” she said.

“Rare disease by definition needs all the attention it can get and establishing a Rare Disease Advisory Council in Connecticut can only bring more awareness to those living with rare conditions and bring needed support to help improve people’s lives.

“Rare diseases, such as Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) and other inherited retinal diseases (IRDs), know no geographical boundaries, so it is a terrific step for Connecticut to join the other 22 states that already have established such councils.”

Hope in Focus Gave Supporting Testimony

Hope in Focus representatives testified in the last several years at the capitol in Hartford in support of establishing a permanent council by educating legislators about our organization and LCA to demonstrate in human terms the necessity for such a council.

We told them that LCA is characterized by severe vision loss at birth, and that while some children are born with little or no vision, others may have significant vision loss in the first few years of life, stable vision for a time, and, as the retina deteriorates, eventually blindness.

We let them know that LCA patients living with one form of the rare inherited retinal disease and treated with the gene therapy LUXTURNA® experienced dramatic changes in their lives with improved or restored vision. Five, 6, 7-year-old children treated with the breakthrough drug view life in a new light in big and little ways, and they now can see rainbows arcing in the sky and stars shining at night.

The legislators also needed to know that the optimal window for reversing vision loss is during the early phase of the disease. Current clinical trials and preclinical research give hope to those with one of the 26 other gene mutations identified to cause LCA, as those scientific studies are critical to advancing treatments for LCA and other IRDs.

After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved LUXTURNA® in 2017, several states attempted to pass laws denying access to treatment to individuals, saying a certain degree of blindness must be met before they could access treatment. Such restrictions are unacceptable and go against federal health recommendations, which state the earlier the intervention, the better the expected outcome.

Hope in Focus made the point that no one who qualifies according to FDA guidelines should ever have to wait to be “blind enough” to receive access to treatment. We, along with other organizations, were quick to call these states out and urged the Connecticut General Assembly to support patient access to FDA-approved treatments.

Rare Disease Advisory Council Specifics

The new law establishes a 13-member Connecticut RDAC to advise and make recommendations to the Department of Public Health and other state agencies about the needs of people in the state living with a rare disease and their caregivers. Advisory councils may differ from state to state in some ways. Click here to check whether your state has an RDAC or is working to establish one.

Council members will include insurance, public health, and social services commissioners, or their designees, and 10 members appointed by the governor and the Public Health Committee leadership.

The 10 members are:

  • a representative of an association of hospitals or a hospital administrator, and a physician with expertise in medical genetics.
  • a representative of a patient advocacy group in the state representing all rare diseases, and a family member or caregiver of a pediatric patient living with a rare disease.
  • a representative of the biopharmaceutical industry involved in rare disease research and therapy development, and an adult living with a rare disease.
  • a member of the scientific community engaged in rare disease research, and a caregiver of a child or adult living with a rare disease.
  • a physician who treats people living with a rare disease, and a representative, family member, or caregiver of a person living with a rare disease.

Initial appointments are required to be made by Oct. 31, 2022. Under the law, five of the first-appointed members serve two-year terms; five members serve three-year terms, and all members serve two-year terms thereafter. Members are not compensated for their services but may be reimbursed for necessary expenses.

The advisory council is required to meet in-person or remotely at least six times between Nov. 30, 2022, and Oct. 31, 2023, and quarterly thereafter. The council also must provide opportunities for the public to make comments, hear council updates, and provide input on council activities.

The council also can hold public hearings to solicit comments from the public to assist with a study or a survey about people living with rare disease, their caregivers, and their health care providers.

The RDAC can consult with experts to develop policy recommendations and conduct research to make recommendations covering treatment, care, safeguards against discrimination, health insurance coverage, drug formularies, and more.

The law also requires the council, starting by Nov. 30, 2023, to annually report to the governor and the Public Health Committee on its findings and recommendations, including council activities, research findings, and legislative recommendations; and potential funding sources for its activities, including grants, donations, sponsorships, or in-kind donations.

The first meeting of the council will be by Nov. 30, 2022.




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