JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri cancer patients who rely on oral chemotherapy pills could see lower costs under legislation sent to the governor's desk Thursday.
The House gave final approval to the bill that would prohibit insurance companies from charging patients significantly more for oral cancer drugs than traditional intravenous treatments. Supporters said the measure would increase access to effective medication for cancer patients.
"In the fight against cancer, it's important that all treatment options are available for patients," said Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, who sponsored her own version of the bill and handled the Senate legislation in the chamber.
The House voted 147-6 to send the bill to Gov. Jay Nixon. The Senate passed the identical bill last month.
Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, said the bill would have helped her family when her husband was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, but she and her husband would've needed to dip into her grandchildren's college fund to pay for oral drugs.
Solon's bill would prevent insurance companies from charging more than $75 for a 30-day supply of oral chemotherapy pills if the company offers both those drugs and intravenous treatments. Patients can often be charged thousands of dollars more for the oral treatments, which Solon said can have fewer side effects, allowing patients to continue to care for their family or work at their job.
Insurance companies often view oral chemotherapy as a pharmacy benefit, often resulting in higher payments by patients. On the other hand, intravenous medication is viewed as a medical treatment, which usually leads to lower copays and the insurance company picking up more of the tab.
"It really provides better access to medical care and allows the patient and doctor to be in charge of medical treatments," said House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country.
If signed, the legislation would take effect at the start of 2015. The $75 cap could increase annually, but wouldn't be able to rise above the consumer price index in a given year.
This was the third year Missouri supporters pushed for the legislation, but previous versions ran into opposition over concerns it would raise premiums. An analysis commissioned by lawmakers last year found that premiums could rise by an average of 57 cents per month if the bill becomes law. Average insurance plans cost $350 per month, according to the report.
Should Nixon sign the measure, Missouri would join 27 other states and the District of Columbia in passing some form of legislation aimed at leveling the cost of cancer treatments.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said the measure would be among the most significant pieces of legislation passed by the Legislature this year. It is sponsored by Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.