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Assembly Republicans Should Do the Humane Thing and Vote for the Oral Chemo Bill

State, Health

Where's Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's  (R-Juneau)  and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' (R-Rochester)  compassion for people suffering from cancer in our state?  Their maneuvers to  block a  bill requiring health plans to provide the same coverage for expensive  chemotherapy pills (which can be taken at home) as they do for the expensive chemotherapy administered through IV's, were disgraceful.

Although a majority of the state Senate supported the bill,  Scott Fitzergerald to took steps to keep it from coming to the floor for a vote.    See Journal Sentinel article Wisconsin senators heavily support cancer drug bill; no vote planned  and  the editorial Scott Fitzgerald Should Stand Aside.

The newspaper has pointed out that  Fitzgerald's brother is lobbying against the bill for the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans. That HMO opposes the bill along with individual insurers and another trade group, the Alliance of Health Insurers.   Insurers are major donors to Senate Republicans' campaigns.

So, what's the top priority of Republican state legislators---serving  Wisconsin residents, including vulnerable folks who are struggling with cancer --- or appeasing special interest groups?  

The Journal Sentinel also reported,  " Like Fitzgerald in the Senate, Vos is using procedural tactics to prevent the bill from getting  a floor vote in which it would clearly pass. On Friday, Vos transferred the bill from the Health Committee to the Insurance Committee--a step taken solely to make it harder to get the bill to the floor."

The Mayo Clinic website contends:    " Oral drugs that are prescribed for the treatment of cancer are called oral chemotherapy. Chemotherapy taken by mouth is just as strong as other forms of chemotherapy and work in a similar way....Oral chemotherapies are becoming more and more common as a way of treating cancer."

Breast cancer survivor Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), a sponsor of the bill, argued,   "Oral chemo is the wave of the future. "In a big way today we're bringing our statutes up to speed of the technology of this drug." 

Fortunately, Fitzgerald flip-flopped.   Per the Journal Sentinel:   "In the Senate, Fitzgerald reversed course after bottling up the bill last week.  He relented on holding the vote--and voted for the bill himself--after Democrats threatened to force repeated votes on the measure Tuesday and other leaders of Fitzgerald's own caucus demanded a vote on it."    The  Senate passed the bill,  30-2 on Tuesday.   Just  two senators  voted against it---Paul Farrow (R-Village of Pewaukee) and Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa).  

In expressing their opposition to the the bill, Farrow declared, "It's a mandate. If we're going to say we're going to mandate this one area, what's the next area we're going to mandate?"  and  Vukmir stated, "I have a consistent record of opposing insurance mandates...."    For your information,  in  June 2013, the Senate  passed a bill mandating women seeking abortions get ultrasounds. The Senate vote for that was 17-15, with all Republicans for it.  So, that mandate was acceptable,  but not one that helps people sickened with cancer get critical treatments?    Given their opposition to a bill to help cancer patients afford chemotherapy pills, I hope Farrow and Vukmir aren't claiming to be compassionate family- values conservatives and  staunchly pro-life.

During my career as a registered nurse, I worked on an oncology unit providing care to very ill cancer patients, including administration of chemotherapy.  Some of my relatives and friends have battled cancer.   Several years ago, my mother was diagnosed with advanced multiple myeloma, which was treated with radiation and   IV chemotherapy.  She endured many treks to the hospital for those outpatient treatments.  If she could have taken chemo orally at home rather than making trips to a medical center to spend hours getting chemo intravenously in a room full of cancer patients, I am certain she'd have preferred that.  

The Journal Sentinel conveys that a vote has been "scheduled for Thursday, where Republicans could still make changes that could kill the measure."  "The  hurdles for the bill in the Assembly remain significant.  In that house, 24 of the 60 majority Republicans have refused to say where they stand on the measure. Six Assembly Republicans oppose the bill and seven say they are undecided."

Mike Kuglitsch ( R-New Berlin)  is listed among the "undecideds".   Contact him at  (608) 267-5158 or by email at Rep.Kuglitsch@legis.wisconsin.gov. 

According to the  JS editorial Now, its up to the Assembly , 29 other states, including neighboring states Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, require health plans to provide the same coverage for expensive chemotherapy taken as pills as they do for expensive chemotherapy administered through IV's.  The editorial states, " Vos vows that he will schedule the bill for Thursday, 'and we're going to discuss some things to make it as effective as possilble.'   That's fine, as long as the bill isn't weakened or the amendment process isn't just another ploy to kill it. "     "The current bill likely would pass the Assembly."   ( Reportedly,  22 Assembly Republicans and 39 Democrats  support it.  That would be 61 votes in the 99-member chamber. )

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