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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

 1:56 PM 

Senate debating change to oral chemo bill, GOP fears change could kill measure

The Senate is debating whether to further amend the oral chemo bill with a clarification that insurers can't raise deductibles or co-insurance.

The original bill said the health insurance plans must not charge higher out-of-pocket costs -- either through deductibles, co-insurance or co-payments -- for oral chemotherapy than it does for IV chemotherapy. However, an amendment passed in the Assembly says insurers are in compliance with that provision if it limits co-pays on oral chemo to $100 per 30-day prescription.

Democrats have offered an amendment to the bill that would explicitly prohibit any increases to out-of-pocket costs.

Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said he felt that passing the Assembly version of the bill would be a "bait and switch" and urged his colleagues to try and pass the compromise amendment.

"Here we find ourselves on the last day...with an opportunity to do something," Schultz said. "Now, I know we've been told that they're not coming back. I think we send a message to the Assembly that this will not stand, they will come in and they will pass a bill with a compromise, and I think that would be in the finest tradition of this body."

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, called the Assembly version a "give-away" for insurance companies, saying the way it was written did not truly limit co-pays to $100. That, Cullen said, was because doctors may need to order multiple prescriptions at a time and language in the amended bill seems to allow insurance companies increase deductibles or co-insurance, unlike other states with similar measures.

"If we've heard stories of people paying two or three or four thousand a month or more for their oral chemo, why would the insurance companies be happy settling for $200 or $300 bucks," Cullen said "They're happy because in this amendment, they have an out."

Cullen also accused Assembly Majority Leader Pat Strachota of writing the bill at the behest of the insurance companies, saying that no advocacy groups were involved in the authorship of the amendment.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said she didn't like the Assembly amendment either, but said she was happy that "we got this far." She also cited a memo from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance saying the amended version of the bill indicated it would indeed result in $100 limits on co-pays and offers parity. Darling cautioned against possibly killing the bill by sending it to the Assembly.

"I have been working on this for two and a half years and I'm not willing to take this risk," Darling said.

Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond Du Lac, said even an imperfect bill would be better than nothing, given the current costs for oral chemo drugs.

"I stood with the cancer patients on March 18, I'm going to stand with the cancer patients today," Gudex said.

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