Urging insurance companies to cover anti-cancer pills

January 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Some cancer patients, even those with good insurance, are paying thousands of dollars a month for treatment because they're taking pills to fight their disease, instead of regular chemo. And some lawmakers in Sacramento say it's time to change that.

The American Cancer Society says cancer is the second-leading cause of death in California. There's a push for better access to treatment, by including oral chemo, in health plans.

"I've had leukemia twice... and it's very, very difficult to experience that," said Assm. Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa.

"I know what it means to spend a day in a room with a loved one going through chemo," said Assm. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles.

No political party is immune to cancer , so a proposal to provide greater access to treatment won bipartisan support in the Assembly. AB1000 forces health insurance companies to cover anti-cancer pills like traditional chemotherapy. Some plans don't, requiring patients to trek to a hospital or pay out of pocket to stay home for treatment.

"They just couldn't afford it. In fact, these costs could average up to $10,000 per month in order to take their medication," said Assm. Henry Perea, D-Fresno.

Perea says expanding such access would especially benefit women greatly because a number of anti-cancer pills are used for treating breast cancer. In all, more than three dozen medications have FDA approval for different types of cancer. The Central Valley Democrat just wants insurance companies to catch up with science.

Opponents still put up a fight. Without knowing how much the federal health care reform will effect medical costs, critics say they would rather wait.

"If we continue to put mandates on insurers, the people who are paying those premiums are going to pay for it," said Assm. Dan Logue, D-Assm. The Health Committee vice chair.

Shelley Thomas lost her husband to leukemia just 18 months ago. She knows he would have rather taken oral chemo over endless trips to the hospital.

"He wanted to be at home. He knew it was not a very good diagnosis, although he was a fighter. He would have been able to spend more time with his children and me at home," said Thomas.

The bill now heads to the Senate. At least a dozen states, including those with Republican governors, have similar laws in place.


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