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Bipartisan Assembly support for oral chemotherapy 'cancer pills'

January 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The state Assembly debated and voted on a measure Thursday aimed at making so-called "cancer pills" more accessible to patients, a move that could save patients' families thousands of dollars. It's called the Cancer Care Act.

The American Cancer Society says cancer is the second-leading cause of death in California. Now there's a push in Sacramento to improve 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 state Assemblyman 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.

AB 1000 forces health insurance companies to cover anti-cancer pills like traditional chemotherapy. Some plans don't, which requires patients to trek to a hospital or pay out-of-pocket to stay home for treatment.

"They just couldn't afford it. And in fact, those costs could average up to $10,000 per month in order to take their medication," said Assm. Henry Perea (D-Fresno), who introduced the bill.

Perea says expanding such access would 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.

Perea just wants insurance companies to catch up with science.

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

"If we continue to put mandates on insurance, the people who are paying those premiums are going to be pay for it," said Assembly Health Committee Vice-Chair Dan Logue (R-Grass Valley).

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," said Thomas. "He would have been able to spend more time with his children and me at home."

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