Personal Stories Highlight Oral Chemotherapy Bill

New legislation proposed by Assembly member Henry Perea (D-Fresno) would require health plans to provide chemotherapy in pill form, in some cases.

“This bill will provide greater access for oral chemotherapy treatment,” Perea said on the Assembly floor late last week. “This is the right thing to do, to allow people access to lifesaving drugs.”

Perea introduced the measure with his personal account of caring for his mother, who he said was diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer just over a year ago. During the long, eight-hour chemo infusion in the hospital, he learned quite a lot about cancer and chemo from patients and professionals.

“One thing, as it relates to my area of Fresno County, is that often people come from long distances away to get their chemo,” Perea said. “I also learned that there are alternatives, that people could take oral chemotherapy, but many people, they just couldn’t afford it, it was too expensive.”

Those costs can average $10,000 a month, Perea said. By mandating coverage, it would spread that cost across all patients in all California health plans, he said: “This bill seeks to bring parity to this problem.”

Assembly member Dan Logue (R-Linda) opposed the bill: “This will increase the price of premiums in California,” he said. “It’s premature, and we just need to vote no.”

Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) pointed out that the legislation excludes CalPERS and therefore state employees, which is a sizable section of covered Californians.

“That’s unfortunate,” Perea said. “But since I couldn’t get the full loaf [in order to pass the bill], that doesn’t mean I can’t get three-quarters of a loaf through.”

One Republican voted for the measure.

“We [Republicans] have an ‘oppose’ on this bill,” Assembly member Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) said. “And a lot of people have issues with it.”

But Cook said he has firsthand experience in his two bouts fighting leukemia, and he knows what it’s like to navigate the complex health care approval system.

“It’s difficult to experience that,” he said, “just to go through and figure out the system,” he said, to get the care that’s needed. “I don’t think this bill is perfect,” he said, “but no bill is perfect. And I’m going to support it.”

The measure passed the Assembly on a 51-15 vote, and now heads to the Senate.

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