Cancer survivor Ketron loses effort to help others

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, a cancer survivor, has lost an effort to reduce costs to patients for orally administered cancer drugs after two weeks of sometime emotional debate.

Only three members of the Senate Commerce Committee, one a Democrat, ultimately voted for the bill by the Murfreesboro lawmaker, who said he had vowed to help other cancer patients after his own yearlong bout with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Six fellow Republicans voted no.

“As I lay in the hospital I told God that if he would help me survive I would do everything to help all other cancer patients in the state,” he told the panel at one point.

The bill (SB2091) requires medical insurance policies that cover cancer treatments to set co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance costs for oral drugs – including some that are “off label,” or officially designated for other purposes – at the same level as those that are injected. It was staunchly opposed by lobbyists for the insurance industry while supported by advocates for cancer patients, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Tennessee.

Some lawmakers, including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, contended the measure would conflict with long-standing conservative sentiment against mandates for insurance coverage.

Johnson last month won Senate passage of a bill intended to make it more difficult to enact insurance mandates in the future. The measure (SB1619) requires that any mandated health benefit will apply equally to TennCare as well as to private insurance companies. In the past, some mandates have excluded TennCare so the bill would not have any cost to state government. Legislation that imposes a new cost on state government without the spending being specifically authorized in the state budget is far more difficult to pass.

The House version of that bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, is scheduled for a House vote Monday and considered likely to win approval.

Note: A press release thanking Ketron for his efforts is below.

News release from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
NASHVILLE – Cancer patients, advocates and health care providers thanked Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) today for his tireless efforts as sponsor of the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act, SB2091/HB2239. The goal of the bill was to allow cancer patients to get the treatment that is determined by their doctor to be the best option without out-of-pocket costs being a deterrent.

Traditional chemotherapy treatments, usually given through an IV or injection, are covered under a patient’s medical benefits resulting in a small co-pay or no cost at all. Oral oncology treatments are usually part of the health plan’s pharmacy benefit and result in high out-of-pocket costs for patients. This disparity can negatively impact patients taking their medication as prescribed.

“Senator Ketron put everything on the line to help cancer patients across Tennessee, and we are truly grateful for his dedication to and work on this legislation,” Jeff Parsley, executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) Tennessee Chapter, said. “It is disappointing that Tennessee will continue to be one of only 10 states in the country that hasn’t taken action to address this common sense approach to level the playing field for cancer patients when it comes to out-of-pocket costs for treatment.”

Today 40 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation that equalizes the cost of oral anti-cancer medications with traditional treatments for patients.

“We’d also like to thank Senate Labor and Commerce Committee members who voted in favor of the bill along with the members who have been extremely supportive in the House,” Parsley continued.

Sens. Ken Yager (R-Kingston), Steve Southerland (R-Morristown) and Reggie Tate (R-Memphis) voted in favor of the legislation. Co-sponsors in the Senate included Sens. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), and Mark Green (R-Clarksville), who voted against the legislation in committee.

Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) sponsored the bill in the House and was joined by co-sponsors Reps. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro), Sabi Kumar (R-Springfield), Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro), Jason Powell (D-Nashville), Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), Mark White (R-Memphis), Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), Joe Towns, Jr. (D-Memphis), Bill Beck (D-Nashville), Barry Doss (R-Leoma), Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), Karen Camper (D-Memphis), Roger Kane (R-Knoxville) and Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley).