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Florida lawmakers push to end unfair pricing for cancer drugs

8:36 PM, Mar 6, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Too many Floridians are facing a frightening life-or-death choice every day: either go deep into debt to pay for a life-saving cancer treatment taken by mouth, or take a less effective drug that costs much less.

The troubling truth is that cancer drugs can cost more depending on how they're administered.

That's patently unfair, according to a couple of state lawmakers who are pushing legislation that would end the huge differences in prices for drugs taken orally and intravenously.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Rep. Debbie Mayfield say cancer patients typically pay a $30 co-pay for IV cancer medications. But the cost for the same oral drug might cost thousands of dollars a month.

Sen. Benacquisto said 324 people are diagnosed with cancer every day. That means nearly 120,000 Floridians will hear that diagnosis in the next year.

She's vowing to fight hard for the bill.

"We will take nothing but yes for an answer to make sure that we provide an opportunity for folks to do what they need to do without worrying that they cannot afford the medication that they so desperately need to save their lives."

Luke Webb is a Floridian who heard the news that he had cancer at the age of 28. He was shocked, but then even more upsetting, there was no IV version of the drug he needed.

So Webb was faced with a $7,000 monthly bill for oral chemotherapy.

Now he is pleading with lawmakers to pass the bill that would require insurers to offer their IV and oral cancer treatments at the same price.

"Please don't restrict access to these medications. Please treat them the same as IV medications and it's patients like me that are calling on those in the state of Florida with power, those standing around me, to do what they can. They have the power to make the changes, to change these policies and to remember patients are counting them."

Webb was lucky. The drug manufacturer approved him to receive the oral medication. But he says the treatment is out of reach for too many other Floridians.

Rep. Mayfield, who lost her own husband to cancer in 2008, says the legislation would not tell insurers to offer new cancer coverage, but would require them not to charge more for oral treatments.

Mayfield says if a patient's oncologist has decided an oral version of the drug is best, then that should be the basis for the treatment - and not whether the patient can afford it.

"It's a financial burden on families when they have the ability to do an oral treatment but they can't afford it and they're required to do an IV treatment and a lot of these drugs are not available through an IV treatment anymore. They're only available through an oral treatment."

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