This week, Alaska and Pennsylvania became the 41st and 42nd states in the U.S., respectively, to provide patients equal access to anticancer treatments with the enactment of oral chemotherapy parity (OCP) legislation.
On July 6, Alaska Governor Bill Walker (I) signed into law SB 142, a bill authored by Senator Cathy Giessel (R-District N). Champions of SB 142 included the American Cancer Society – Cancer Action Network (ACS-CAN), the Denali Oncology Group and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). The sponsor, Senator Giessel, is an advanced nurse practitioner.
The bill was on the Governor’s desk for the past two months, but was delayed due to unrelated issues with the state’s budget.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s (D) signature of HB 60 on July 8 marks the culmination of a protracted, multi-year effort among a diverse mix of national and state-based patient advocacy groups, provider organizations and academic institutions.
The Pennsylvania State Senate and House unanimously passed the bill last week, setting the stage for enactment.
Over the past few years, the legislation was earnestly championed by several key legislators, most notably State Representative Matt Baker (R-68th district), who chairs the House Health Committee and sponsored the bill. State Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-171st District), founder of the 53-member bipartisan cancer caucus in the House, and State Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46th District), who is working to establish a cancer caucus in the Senate, also were strong supporters. The passion of these legislators has been fueled, in part, by their family members who have been impacted by cancer.
As is often the case in such efforts, the patient voice resonated most loudly in the extended campaign. For example, a leukemia survivor named Kathy Hawkins, who hails from Carlisle, PA, dedicated countless hours educating state policymakers and the media on the importance of equal access to oral cancer treatments. Paul O’Hara, a cancer survivor and advocacy volunteer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, similarly helped to underscore the financial difficulties faced by his family as a result of the high out-of-pocket costs for his prescribed oral medicine.
Similar to other measures passed throughout the country, HB 60 and SB 142 prohibit health insurers in state-regulated insurance plans from charging a higher coinsurance for oral anticancer medications than for intravenous options, thereby ensuring that disproportionate out-of-pocket costs do not impact a patient’s ability to access the treatment deemed best by their physician.
Approximately one-quarter – or 3 million people – of Pennsylvania’s population will be protected by the new law. Conversely, in Alaska, the value of the legislation reflects the geographic realities of the state. SB 142 will help rural patients who live out in the hinterlands access an oral medication rather than having to travel to Anchorage or Fairbanks for IV treatment.