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September 22, 2014

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Assembly committee urged to keep cost down for cancer pills

A woman who contracted cancer in 2008 told an Assembly committee Friday she and her husband may have to sell their home to afford the pills that treat the disease.

In emotional testimony, Cari Joyce of Carson City said the cost of the pills not fully covered by insurance will run anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 a month and possibly more.

She and others told of the hardships faced by the high cost of these pills and urged the committee to pass a bill that requires insurance companies that offer cancer coverage to limit the co-payment to $100 per prescription.

Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, detailed the problems of his son who died from cancer and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, related the suffering of her sister who also died from the illness.

The bill, SB-266, was called a “parity bill.” In some policies that cover cancer, the co-pay for a patient who receives intravenous treatment is zero while co-pay for pills is $2,856.

“This is about dispensing fairness,” said Tom McCoy of the American Cancer Society.

Michael Hackett, representing the International Myeloma Foundation, said oral treatments are available for a range of cancers, including breast, lung and chronic myeloid leukemia.

Carla Brutico, a registered nurse and cancer consultant, said the patient can take the pill home rather than going through the intravenous procedure in a medical office or hospital.

There was minor testimony in opposition to the bill. James Jackson, representing the American Health Insurance Plan, asked the bill be amended to require drug companies to reveal how much it costs to make the pill. His organization does not oppose the bill but called for “transparency” in disclosure of the cost of the medication.

This bill would not cover self insurance groups, said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas. These could exclude such groups as police and firemen and the Clark County Teachers Association. And it would not be applied to those covered by Medicaid.

Carlton said this $100 co-pay would result in less people going to the hospital and cancer patients should be able to afford the pill without worrying about the high cost.

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, who sponsored the bill, said the health insurance premiums increased only a few dollars in other states that adopted a similar law.

The bill does not require a health insurance plan to cover cancer. But those that offer cancer coverage, the co-payment would be limited to $100. The committee did not take any action on the bill which was approved 21-0 in the Senate and it has 31 co-sponsors in the 42-member Assembly.

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