Gov. Walker signs oral chemotherapy drugs bill

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) — Cancer patients across the state are rejoicing as a three-year long battle to get insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy the same way they cover traditional IBV chemo, is over.

Most insurance companies cover traditional chemotherapy, administered in a hospital or clinic, as a medical procedure. Oral chemotherapy is covered as a pharmaceutical benefit, making it much more expensive for patients.

Gov. Scott Walker has signed a bill, the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act, into law. It is designed to lower the cost of chemotherapy drugs in pill form for cancer patients. Walker signed the measure Thursday, April 3rd at the Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center.

In one of the most memorable bill-signings in his tenure as Governor, Walker was surrounded by hundreds of cancer patients and their doctors who feel the new law will save many lives.

"It effectively just provides parity, so that if someone's got a health insurance plan that provides chemotherapy, now going forward, that plan has to provide parity when it comes to providing it orally," said Gov. Walker. "It's a win all the way around."

The Republican-sponsored bill passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, after initially being kept from a vote by Republican leaders. The bill was controversial, however, because insurance companies viewed it as a government mandate on private businesses.

"It's the beginning of an argument that any expensive drug should be dealt with that way," said insurance industry lobbyist Jim Buchen.

Cancer patients and doctors say the law is essential.

"Some of the best chemotherapies that have the most effectiveness, they only come as a pill.  So, it's not like there's an IV equivalent, and a lot of these patients couldn't afford it," said Dr. James Thomas with the Medical College of Wisconsin.

One study showed out-of-pocket costs for cancer medication averaged more than $2,900 in 2009 -- up 17% from 2008. Leukemia survivor Jennifer Grandkoski has spent more than $50,000 on oral chemo in the last decade.

"It was a really high cost that was just prohibitive and almost prevented me from being able to take the medication," said Grandkoski. "I was paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars every ten days."

Under the new law, out-of-pocket costs will be limited to $100 -- something Grandkoski says she can live with.

Nearly 30 other states have similar legislation.

"In line with the majority of states, we are a little bit late -- but better late than never," said oncologist Dr. Parmeswaran Hari.

The new law will take effect in January, 2015.


  • Jenny

    “Mary Czaja is a Republican state legislator from Irma. She’s a businesswoman with an insurance background. She’s also facing cancer again after having the disease 10 years ago.” She was AGAINST the bill until SHE got cancer, then decided that all of a sudden now she’s FOR IT!

  • greg

    a lot of these so called “experts” have no real world scientific understanding of nutrition! big ole uncle walker needs to slam an iron fist on the cause of cancer cell overgrowth in wi instead of little petty quick fixes to help people situations slightly. mandatory 4 year nutritional class in highschool would be a good start since 99.99% of americans know basically very little about whole food

  • EdwardK

    GOOD for Walker! NOONE should be without access and coverage to the best and most updated treatments for Cancer! These insurance companies make billions! Nothing should be witheld or not covered. And, the goverment should step in and control the cost of drugs as that is just ridiculous. Then again, the government is getting tons of kickbacks for turning the other was as they are partnered with these drug companies.

  • greg james

    what you said edward k made absolutely no sense. first off cancer itself is not a disease, infact we all need cancer or we die. also the good treatments for cancer overgrowth are never covered under insurance. not once have i seen an alkaline, low carb, no gluten protien, low meat, low grain, dairy free treatment, with probiotics, detoxification teas, and on and on and on get covered by insurance.

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