Our Views: Wisconsin lawmakers shouldn't risk lives of cancer patients

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

State lawmakers should stop playing political games and pass the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act.

The measure, also known as Senate Bill 300, would require insurers to cover costs of chemotherapy pills—not just intravenous treatments. Without this legislation, patients with some health plans face thousands of dollars in co-pays for pills.

Shenanigans risk dooming SB 300 in the legislative session's final hours. Lawmakers are risking the lives of some cancer patients, as well.

First, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, used procedural measures to block a Senate vote, even though the bill had wide bipartisan support. That support was evident when it finally cleared the Senate on Tuesday, 30-2.

Now it must pass the Assembly, where Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, reportedly opposes it despite it having sufficient supporters. While Vos says he will allow a vote when the Assembly meets one final time Thursday, he suggests possible undisclosed changes.

Any change could create the proverbial poison pill because both houses must pass identical versions. The Senate plans to meet one final time April 1.

On Wednesday, Gov. Scott Walker reportedly said he would sign the bill if the Assembly passes it.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who co-authored SB 300 with Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend, says pills are the future for cancer treatment and this measure helps the state keep pace.

 “As a cancer survivor, I know how important it is that your treatment options are decided between you and your doctor,” Darling said in a news release Tuesday. “The Cancer Treatment Fairness Act makes sure that decision stays in the doctor's office instead of the insurance office.”

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, noted that an average of 87 Wisconsinites get the devastating news each day that they have cancer. In a news release, she said pills can be more effective and less toxic. They even allow patients to keep working without noxious side effects caused by other treatments.

Darling says doctors are increasingly turning to pills and often use pills and injections together. Pills have proven especially effective against some blood and breast cancers, and many new cancer treatments involve pills. Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota are among 28 states that have already passed similar legislation.

The problem is that insurance companies fear higher costs. It's no surprise that Fitzgerald's brother, Jeff, a former legislator, works as a lobbyist for the opposition trade group Wisconsin Association of Health Plans. Sen. Fitzgerald claimed his brother's position played no role in delaying the legislation, but while the senator voted for it Tuesday, the stall tactics took on an unseemly smell given the bill's overwhelming support.

It's worth noting that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that states enacting similar measures didn't see leaps in insurance premiums. The state of Washington experienced an increase of just 0.2 percent, and Indiana found no increase.

Said Darling: “Every state that has evaluated the cost of the measure found little to no impact on consumers.”

“The clock is running out for many of these patients, who cannot wait while politicians play games with their health,” Taylor said. “Their lives depend on us acting now. … Delaying this bill is simply unconscionable.”

Stop messing with the lives of some of Wisconsin's most vulnerable residents. Pass the measure, and put it before Walker to sign.

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