PROVIDENCE — The House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday, June 26, sponsored by Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) requiring health plans to cover oral cancer pills at a rate comparable to standard intravenous (IV) chemotherapy.
“Rhode Island will be the tipping point state. We’re the 26th to pass this legislation,” Rep. Amore said. “It will force the federal government to look at it for Medicare coverage.”
The House approved the bill, similar to the one Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law in January, by a 66-0 vote. Rep. Amore’s fellow East Providence legislators, Reps. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence), Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), were among the co-sponsors of the bill (2013-H 5354A).
“What this legislation is trying to do is place the cost of chemotherapy treatment in the form of pills more on par with IV chemotherapy, protecting cancer patients from unnecessary cost hikes,” Rep. Amore said.
The subject of chemotherapy and cancer is a dear one to Rep. Amore. With the last few years, his wife battled breast cancer, which remains in remission, successfully.
“I’m truly humbled by the overwhelming support in the House for this bill, which could not only make a difference in each patient’s chances of recovery, but eradicates what I feel is an unfair practice,” he continued. “There has been a lot of success with targeted cancer therapies in the form of pills, and we need to change our laws to keep up with developments in health and science while protecting patients. Cancer affects so many people – we need to ensure that our state is taking the appropriate steps to make all forms of chemotherapy accessible.”
Oral chemotherapy is presently treated as a prescription drug benefit, which requires patients to pay a large amount of the drugs’ cost. IV chemotherapy is treated as a medical benefit, essentially requiring insurers to issue a modest patient co-pay and a limit to annual out-of-pocket expenses.
Once enacted, the legislation could save cancer patients thousands of dollars for a treatment that serves the same purpose as the intravenous form. It also recognizes the growing range of oncology drugs and leaves room for medical advances in oral treatments.
A 2008 National Comprehensive Cancer Network report stated that oral chemotherapy treatments make up more than 25 percent of the 400 cancer medicines that are in the process of being tested. Scientists have also been able to develop successful targeted therapies with oral treatments for certain types of cancer.
Other cosponsors of the bill included Larry Valencia (D-Dist. 39, Richmond, Hopkinton, Exeter) and Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln). It has been referred to the House Corporations Committee. Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence) sponsors the Senate companion (2013-S 0428).