Thursday April 12, 2012
When you think of a friend or loved one who is battling cancer, you probably imagine their chemotherapy being administered intravenously at a local hospital. However, modern advances in technology and pharmaceuticals have produced chemotherapy drugs that can be taken orally, in pill form. To date, the FDA has approved more than 40 oral anti-cancer medications for the treatment of at least 54 different types of cancer.
Oral chemotherapy offers patients many advantages over IV chemotherapy, including the convenience of being able to take the drug themselves at home or at work, flexibility in the timing and duration of treatments and reduced or less severe side effects. Yet, oral chemotherapy medications tend to be very expensive, putting them out of reach for many patients who are eligible for them.
One problem patients run into is how oral chemotherapy drugs are categorized by insurance companies. While traditional chemotherapies are classified as medical benefits just like your routine doctor visits, many insurance companies have chosen to classify oral anti-cancer drugs as prescription drugs, thereby subjecting patients to high co-pays and coinsurance that can make the drugs unaffordable.
The good news is many states are working to do something about this – states like Nebraska, whose Senate just last week unanimously passed an oral chemotherapy parity bill making it easier for cancer patients to access these drugs. With Nebraska being a very rural state, this legislation is incredibly important for cancer patients who live far away from a hospital and depend on the convenience of oral chemo drugs for the care they need. ACS CAN staff and volunteers worked closely with State Senator Jeremy Nordquist, who introduced the measure, to bring the bill to a vote on April 2. All 46 senators who were present for the vote supported the bill’s passage. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law soon.
Prior to the vote, the two largest newspapers in Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald, endorsed the legislation in editorials. It was a huge victory for residents of Nebraska, who are now able to receive oral chemotherapy drugs at similar rates to traditional IV chemotherapy medications.
Nebraska isn’t the only state working to ease this burden on cancer patients. Seventeen states, including Maryland and Delaware most recently, and D.C. have passed oral chemotherapy parity legislation requiring state-regulated insurance companies and HMOs to cover these oral drugs “on a basis no less favorable than” IV-administered anti-cancer medications. Also in the past few months, some states have tightened their legislative language, resulting in health plans complying to reduce the current cost sharing for oral chemotherapy that had previously been a problem for cancer patients. ACS CAN will continue to voice its support of similar legislation in every state until cancer patients can access all of the lifesaving drugs they need at costs they can afford.