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House committee recommends bill that aims to lower cost of chemotherapy pills

A House committee recommended passage this morning of a bill that aims to lower the cost of chemotherapy pills taken by increasing numbers of cancer patients.

Senate Bill 99 would prohibit insurance companies from charging significantly more for oral cancer drugs than they do for traditional intravenous treatments.

The House Health and Aging Committee unanimously approved the bill following four hearings that included emotional testimony from patients and their families about having to pay thousands of dollars a month for the life-saving pills, draining savings and college funds.

The House is expected to vote on the legislation next week. It passed the Senate in March, 31-1.

Under the bill, insurance companies that cover traditional intravenous treatments must offer comparable coverage for oral medications. They also can comply with the law by charging no more than $100 for a 20-day supply of chemotherapy pills.

The legislation has been blocked for years by insurance companies, which argued that it would drive up costs. However, one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Charleta B. Tavares, D-Columbus, said other states with similar laws have not experienced increased expense.

If the bill is approved, Ohio would become the 33rd state to enact such legislation.

Patients say they pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for the drugs because they are covered as a prescription benefit, which tends to have higher co-pays. Intravenous treatments are typically covered under inpatient services with little, if any, cost to the patient.

Supporters say the insurance industry has not kept up with advances in cancer treatment.

“To the benefit of patients, exciting advancements are being made in cancer treatment and care. Advancements are allowing us to selectively target cancer cells and deliver agents that directly interfere with the cancer cells’ survival. These targeted agents generally require continuous exposure to the medication, for which oral therapies are well-suited,” a coalition of hospitals and patient advocates wrote in a letter to committee members.

“Today, oral oncology therapies comprise about 10 percent of the available therapies. It is estimated that 25-35 percent of the medications in the oncology development pipeline are oral therapies.”

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