Q&A with Rep. Jim Gerlach
Posted by Anthony White on December 13, 2011 9:55 PM EST
The Pennsylvania congressman talks about why he sponsored a bill supporting psoriatic disease research
The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Research, Cure, and Care Act of 2011 (PPARCCA), introduced in Congress earlier this year, awaits congressional action
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced it in the Senate. To find out more about how the bill might fare in this congressional session, we recently talked with Rep. Gerlach about why he introduced it and what he's learned about psoriasis.
NPF: Last May, you introduced PPARCCA in the House of Representatives. The bill would authorize Congress to spend $1.5 million per year for six years, or a total of $9 million, to fund research into psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Two years ago, you co-sponsored a similar psoriasis-related bill. Why is this legislation important to you.
Rep. Gerlach: I became interested in the issue through my constituents. They communicated the need to do more at the federal level to better understand psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and to put forward ways to work for more effective medical approaches. So I sponsored legislation in each session to make sure the money would be authorized to let the CDC collect data (about psoriatic disease).
NPF: What did you know about psoriasis before you met constituents with the disease?
Rep. Gerlach: I did not know about the disease, never had a personal situation with the condition. No one in my family has had to deal with it. But constituents told stories about how they were impacted, people of all ages. It's surprising that psoriasis is so serious. Maybe you've heard about it in a TV commercial advertising some sort of itch relief, but [when you learn about] its effects and the other complications that can arise from it, you realize it is much more serious.
NPF: The Foundation's statistics show that as many as 330,200 people in Pennsylvania have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, approximately 18,480 of them in your district. What is the significance of this bill for your constituents?
Rep. Gerlach: By understanding the scope of the disease and how it affects people around the country, the NIH can tie that information to researching treatments and finding a cure. That's what we're doing with this legislation.
NPF: What are the next steps for the bill? What can you do to mobilize support for it among your House colleagues?
Rep. Gerlach: I will work with the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health [currently considering the bill] and the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee [which must approve the bill before it goes to the House] to persuade them that the bill is worthy of consideration and get it onto the House floor.
What may delay it is the budgetary process. Right now, budget negotiations are crowding out other issues we need to also try to address. Nine million dollars over six years is not a relatively large amount, and that might be a benefit. We're not talking billions and billions. It should be obtainable in a $3.7 trillion budget.
(Gerlach noted that PPARCCA is an authorization bill—it doesn't actually appropriate the funding. If Congress approves this authorization, the money to fund psoriasis research would have to be allocated in a separate appropriation bill that Congress would pass and the president would sign into law.)
NPF: Is there anything you want to add about the bill, your support of it or about your constituents with psoriatic disease?
Rep. Gerlach: It's been a great experience working with my constituents on this issue and it's been a pleasure to work with the Foundation