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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

 1:05 PM 

Senate votes 30-2 to approval oral chemotherapy bill

The state Senate voted 30-2 to approve legislation requiring health insurers to treat oral chemotherapy the same as intravenous treatments in a sharp reversal after Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had previously taken steps to bottle up the bill.

GOP Sen. Alberta Darling, the co-author of SB 300, said numerous people have approached her in recent days asking why the legislation was put on hold considering its bipartisan support. She thanked Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, for allowing the vote. Last week, he used a phantom hearing to prevent Dems from forcing a floor vote on the bill, and scrutiny of the move has ratcheted up in recent days.

"People can relate to it," said Darling, a 10-year survivor of breast cancer. "They know what’s involved for the family at a personal level. That’s why they’re driving it so hard."

GOP Sens. Paul Farrow of Pewaukee and Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa voted no on the bill, which must pass the Assembly before it could go to the guv's desk.

The bill would require health insurance companies to cover treat oral chemotherapy the same as treatments delivered via IV. That includes prohibiting a higher copayment, deductible or coinsurance payment for oral chemotherapy.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, called Tuesday the best day in the Senate in more than two years.

Erpenbach, who works part-time driving a shuttle for a hotel, relayed a story of a passenger he took to a UW hockey game recently who recognized him as a state lawmaker and relayed that he is a cancer patient who takes a chemotherapy pill. He told Erpenbach he was a Republican and did not understand why the legislation had become a political issue. But he had faith the Legislature would do the right thing after the bill passed out of committee 5-0.

Erpenbach said the chamber can debate the merits of placing a new mandate on insurance plans. But he insisted that is not the point of this legislation.

"If somebody in this state has cancer, we have to do whatever we can to help them with their treatment, help make them comfortable and help make them clear enough of thought so they can make their own decisions," Erpenbach said.

Several Dems spoke on the floor to put pressure on the Assembly to also take up the legislation, and Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, warned the Senate's vote would be hollow and shallow if the Assembly failed to pass the bill before adjourning. The Assembly was in session Tuesday and planned to be back on the floor Thursday.

"It will be the height of cynicism. Mr. President, for this Legislature to adjourn, leaving these people simply to wonder who to blame and who to hold accountable because the clock ran out," Jauch said.

Darling, R-River Hills, downplayed the role the Assembly's actions played in the significance of the Senate vote, insisting it was still a meaningful step regardless of what happens.

But Jauch insisted the Legislature should not adjourn until the bill has cleared both houses.

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