MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, with cancer support advocates standing behind him, announced Thursday that a deal had been reached that will lead to passage of a bill making expensive chemotherapy drugs in pill form more affordable for cancer patients.
The change would cap charges to insured cancer patients at no more than $100 per month to receive the potentially life-saving drugs, which can costs tens of thousands of dollars a year or more out-of-pocket. If changed as planned by the Assembly, the Senate would have to pass it again on its final session day April 1 before it would go to Gov. Scott Walker. His spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Walker would sign the amended version into law, should it pass.
"I am very confident the bill will pass the Assembly today and ultimately be signed by Gov. Walker," Vos said at a news conference prior to debate beginning on the Assembly's final day in session for the year.
Walker, advocates and the Republican Senate sponsor of the bill had said Wednesday that they didn't want any changes to be made to the measure as it passed the Senate on Tuesday.
The Assembly's proposed change has the support of advocates, moved insurance companies from being opposed to the bill to neutral, and should lead to it being signed into law, Vos said.
Health insurers had opposed the bill because they said it would drive up their costs.
Historically, intravenous treatments have been the predominant route for administering chemotherapy to fight a wide variety of cancers. While chemotherapy in pill form has been available for decades, supporters of the bill say more of the new drugs being developed are in pill form, not intravenous form.
But oral chemotherapy can cost thousands of dollars a month, while intravenous treatments at a hospital or doctor's office often cost only a $20 copayment under a patient's insurance policy.
Insurance companies typically view the oral drugs as a pharmacy benefit and the intravenous therapy as a medical treatment, which leads to the price disparity. Patients can often be required to pay half of the pharmacy benefit's cost.
The bill would require that health insurance companies charge the same for chemotherapy drugs in pill form, which can be taken at home, as they do for the IV treatments. The bill as it cleared the Senate did not have the copay cap.
Bill sponsor, Assembly Majority Leader Pat Strachota, said the $100 copay is common in the 29 other states with similar laws and makes sense. The change won the support of groups that have been lobbying for passage of the bill for years.
"This $100 is fair," said Paul Westrick, a blood cancer survivor and the board chair for the Wisconsin chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He appeared with Vos and Strachota where the amendment was unveiled.
"This is a good bill," Westrick said.
Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday signed a similar bill into law that includes a $75 cap on out-of-pocket costs for a 30-day supply of oral chemotherapy pills.
Vos said he believed the Senate would sign off on it when it returns for its final session day on April 1. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said the Senate would vote on the bill again if the Assembly made changes, but his spokesman did not immediately return an email Thursday seeking reaction to the proposal.
The sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, said she hoped the Assembly passed the measure "without needless amendments." Her spokesman did not immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.
The bill would take effect in January if passed and signed into law.