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VOL. 41 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 31, 2017

House committee passes bill to make Oral chemo more affordable

By Sam Stockard

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Despite objections to a pharmaceutical reporting requirement, a House committee this morning passed legislation designed to make oral chemotherapy medication more affordable.

By a 16-2 vote, the House Insurance and Banking Committee approved legislation sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth prohibiting an insurance provider from requiring a higher insurance co-payment for oral anti-cancer medication than for injected chemotherapy medication. The measure moves next to the Calendar & Rules Committee and then the House floor.

Legislators largely supported the basis of the bill but got stuck over an amendment making pharmaceutical companies file a report with the state Department of Commerce and Insurance if the price of their oral chemo medication increases 10 percent in a fiscal year.

“I don’t think the amendment belongs on this bill,” said Lamberth, a Sumner County Republican, who noted he’s afraid the reporting requirement will wind up killing the bill. The amendment passed 9-7.

Lamberth denied he is sponsoring the measure at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, saying he opted to bring the legislation at the request of state Sen. Bill Ketron, who battled cancer two years ago and told him he wanted to do something to help other patients in Tennessee.

The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Ron Travis, a Dayton Republican, said he thought it made sense to introduce the measure, in part, because the bill is a “mandate” on the insurance industry.

Travis asked what would happen if the price of the drug were to go up 100 percent without a reporting requirement.

“It makes me want to vote for the bill itself as amended,” Travis said.

Rep. Charles Sargent, a Franklin Republican, who voted for the amendment and the bill, raised concerns about statements that PhRMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) would work to defeat the legislation because of the price “transparency” amendment.

“I want people to be treated at an affordable price,” Sargent said. “If PhRMA wants to work with us, they can work with us.”

Representatives of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance raised concerns about instability within the insurance industry and the impact of price reporting.

But the majority of lawmakers on the committee said they were more concerned with the continually rising cost of drugs. Sargent pointed out the state’s pharmaceutical costs are increasing 9 to 11 percent annually for state employees.

State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who supported the amendment and the bill, said he would “call out” any legislators who voted for the bill in committee but change their votes on the House floor in an effort to kill the measure at the pharmaceutical industry’s request.

“It will be a betrayal of the trust of the citizens that put us here,” Hardaway said.

The Memphis Democrat said he favors “access, affordability and adequacy” and argued the “transparency” requirement makes sense for public policy.

A PhRMA spokesman said last week the association has not taken an official position on the bill but supports the concept of “oral parity” to make sure patients get the best treatment possible.

Spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll said PhRMA is concerned about additional financial reporting requirements that don’t address the problem and raised the possibility that putting a burden on pharmaceutical companies could “stunt” innovation and hurt patients.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also raised concerns about the legislation in its amended form.

“The coalition finds because this amendment was added the bill is not viable,” said society spokeswoman Sarah Balog.

In addition, a recent report by PhRMA found more patients are paying for insurance in the commercial market through deductibles and co-insurance, or a percentage of the drug’s price, rather than fixed co-payments. Eighteen percent of Tennessee brand medications are filled through deductibles or co-insurances, according to the report.

For one of five medicine prescriptions, the patients are paying the list price instead of the discounted price insurance companies pay after rebates, according to the report, a situation in which savings aren’t being passed on to consumers.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.