Guest Author: Lainey Titus Samant, Associate Director of Public Policy
California brain tumor patients scored a win in early October when Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that will make oral chemotherapy more affordable and accessible. California Assembly Bill AB 219, authored by Assembly Member Henry Perea (D-Fresno), would limit the out of pocket expense for orally administered anti-cancer medications to $200 per 30-day supply for cancer patients.
NBTS’s California State Lead Advocate Liz Salmi played a key advocacy role in advancing AB 219 towards passage. Liz made NBTS an integral player in the coalition of organizations supporting the legislation. In addition to meeting with California legislators to discuss the need for parity, Liz testified before the California Senate Health Committee on June 26 to share her story and discuss the ways in which she benefitted from oral chemotherapy.
“In 2008, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with a grade II astrocytoma: brain cancer. Five years, two brain surgeries, and several rounds of chemotherapy later, I am a survivor,” said Liz. “Today, I am also a passionate advocate for the brain tumor cause and have experienced firsthand the important advancements we can make by fighting for patients, and funding research, which will help those with brain tumors in the years to come. Just last week, the California Assembly signed into law AB 219 to cover oral forms of chemotherapy at the same level as IV drugs. I fought hard to get the bill passed and consider it a major accomplishment made possible through the hard work of advocates and organizations like the National Brain Tumor Society. The Bill is a perfect example of how we can work together to change lives.”
Although oral chemotherapy parity would increase access to lifesaving treatment for all cancer patients, passage of this bill is especially significant for patients with malignant brain tumors. One type of chemotherapy, temozolomide (brand name, Temodar), is one of the most widely used to treat malignant brain tumors and is part of the standard of care for many patients. For many brain tumor patients, temozolomide is the only form of chemotherapy available and it is almost always prescribed in oral form. Many health insurance plans cover the oral chemotherapy as a pharmacy benefit and not as a medical benefit, as traditional IV chemotherapy is covered. The result can be high co-pays or co-insurance in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month. For many brain tumor patients there is not an IV chemotherapy substitute. Therefore, health insurance cost-sharing plans can create real economic hardships, or worse, result in a lack of adherence to an oncologist-prescribed chemotherapy regimen.
The newly signed law will go into effect on January 1, 2015.