Michigan cancer patients push for passage of oral chemotherapy fairness bill

Michigan 1 of 7 states without oral chemo legislation

By Jason Colthorp - Anchor/Reporter, Derick Hutchinson

LANSING, Mich. - Oral chemotherapy fairness legislation is again on the mind of lawmakers in Lansing. It's a measure that would greatly reduce costs for many cancer patients.

UPDATE: Michigan lawmakers shelve oral chemotherapy fairness bill

There are 43 states with legislation that basically puts oral chemotherapy, the pill, in the same category as IV chemo treatment, meaning whichever is prescribed can be paid with a copay.

But Michigan isn't one of those states, and it's left many families to choose how they treat their cancer by what they can afford, instead of what their doctor recommends.

Fighting off ovarian cancer twice has taken its toll on Mary Groll-Brown.

"I'm a two-time cancer survivor," Groll-Brown said. "I was on 18 weeks of chemo. It's brutal. It's no joke. I had emergency room visits. I had in-patient hospitalization stays.

"We want to go back to work. We want to contribute to the tax base. When you're on IV chemo, I'm sorry folks, there's none of that. You're lucky to get from the bed to a chair."

After the cancer came back a year ago, oral chemotherapy helped Groll-Brown immensely, and luckily, her insurance company covers it as part of a one-time-only clinical trial.

But many people are forced to pay $900-$4,000 per month because it falls under an insurance's pharmacy benefit, meaning patients pay 28 percent of a very expensive drug.

"We don't need to be wondering, 'Am I going to pay these bills, or am I going to pay my mortgage, or pay for my cancer treatment?'" Groll-Brown said.

It can be frustrating for doctors because oral chemotherapy is becoming the first line of defense against most cancers.

The legislation has died in a House committee three times since 2009, but it passed the House twice, with only one vote against it each time.

On Thursday, supporters are hoping the bill will get its first public hearing in Lansing, but that looks unlikely.

Committee chair Lana Theis, a representative from Brighton, said she's planning to send it back to another committee because the American Cancer Society hasn't given her the information she asked for to guarantee the mandate won't skyrocket costs for the drug.

The ACS said it has given her everything she's requested.

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