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Cancer treatment bill faces setback

Co-pay limit on proposal changed in Senate, now returns to House

POSTED: March 14, 2014 11:07 p.m.

A bill placing a cap on the maximum out-of-pocket costs for orally administered chemotherapy treatments passed the state Senate on Thursday. It had been approved in the House in February.

But rather than being the final word on the matter, the bill will now return to the House after the Senate changed the language of the proposed legislation by attaching to it a bill dealing with autism treatment for children.

The Cancer Treatment Fairness Act aims to limit co-pays for oral cancer treatments to $200, putting it on par with the cost of intravenously administered treatments.

“This affords the opportunity for many patients to access oral forms of cancer treatment,” which are often more effective and have fewer side effects, said Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, the chief sponsor of the bill.

But the bill didn’t go far enough for some patient advocacy groups, who insisted co-pays should be set at no more than $100.

“Although the intent of the legislation is to help patients, the reality is this legislation will not do enough for cancer patients,” John Gibson, director of state government affairs for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, said in an email to The Times. “We commend Rep. Hawkins for his leadership on taking this issue on. However, the insurers have changed the legislation, which will not benefit cancer patients as similar legislation does in Florida, Virginia and approximately 24 other states across the country.”

Hawkins said he agreed with these concerns, but that the only way to get lawmakers and insurers on board was to settle at $200.

“That does, unfortunately, put it out of the reach of some,” Hawkins added. “But $200 is better than $2,000.”

If the bill becomes law, Hawkins said he would revisit it next year to see if the out-of-pocket costs could be lowered.
“I pledge that I will continue to look at that,” he said.

But after a long battle winning approval of the legislation in the House, Hawkins was dealt a setback Thursday when the Senate approved the bill with the addition of a proposed act requiring insurers to cover autism treatments for children.

Hawkins said the change had generated significant disagreement about costs and policy changes between the House and Senate, jeopardizing the passage of the cancer act. He was busy Friday preparing for the final week of the legislative session, which ends Thursday, and pushing to get the bill passed.

“I got a lot of work ahead of me,” Hawkins said. “But I’m up for it.”


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