Unnecessary barbs thrown over “Cancer Treatment Fairness Act” in Senate Appropriations

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Unexpectedly sharp words were exchanged over a hearing of Lizbeth Benacquisto’s “Cancer Treatment Fairness Act” in response to opposition on the bill from the Florida Association of Health Plans.

Benacquisto’s SB 422 requires insurers to provide coverage for oral cancer drugs equitably to coverage for intravenously administered or injected drugs, and prohibits insurers from raising costs on IV drugs to comply with the bill.

Although historically, intravenous methods are most common for administering chemotherapy, at least one quarter of drugs in oncology development are oral medications, many of which do not have an IV equivalent. While intravenous medications are usually covered by health plans as an office or outpatient service, oral cancer drugs are usually treated as a prescription drug benefit, leaving many patients with prohibitively high costs to comply with treatment.

Simple enough?

Not quite; and when Michael Garner with the Florida Association of Health Plans (FAHP) addressed Senate Appropriations in opposition to the bill, the response from the panel was harsh.

Garner cited several problems with the bill in its current form, such as the effective date causing state-federal conflicts, and issues with rate and form filings and  the high costs of drugs.

In sequential order, here are clips of the dialogue that followed:

Sen. Negron: “Did your Association really make a political decision to stand up and oppose a bill with 24 cosponsors in Senate, and all the bill says, is  if an insurance company is going to pay for things to come into your arm because you have cancer, and there is something available to take orally for the same thing, that you have to pay for that? Was this worth the effort today?”

Sen. Ring: “This drives me nuts, it truly does…. if there is a real issue I’m sure Sen. Benacquisto can work through it… It makes me very angry that this bill is being opposed like this.”

Brian Pitts: “I looked at it, looked at it, looked at it again. Then I said ok, let’s look at what the staff got to say.    Because they’re supposed to help you all, you know get this done and get this done correctly. I mean you hire them, you’ve got attorneys on board and everything. The gentleman before you, you kinda tried to shoot him down, but he made some valid points that your staff brought up. Now if your staff can negate it today, then fine. But by shooting him down you kinda shot your staff down too.”

Sen. Benacquisto: “I just want to say for the record that a meeting was never requested from the Health Plans to discuss their concerns, or to attempt to work out any solution, or to raise any issue or at all. Or, frankly, to say ‘gosh we support the bill but just have an issue with an effective date.’   I think what you heard today was the raising of a concern about an effective date, but the underlying comment was, ‘We support the bill, and we support  the access of individuals to have the treatment their doctor thinks is best.’

Well said, Senator.

The bill passed unanimously 19-0.