Higgins Calls for Equal Access to Affordable Oral Chemotherapy Prescription Drugs Amidst COVID-19 Outbreak
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) is pushing for the next COVID-19 emergency package to include language giving cancer patients equal access to oral chemotherapy medications that can be taken at home. Oral chemo parity, requiring similar health insurance coverage for oral chemo drugs as that provided for injectable or intravenous chemo, is a measure Congressman Higgins has been fighting for and it is especially relevant amid today’s public health emergency.
Joining Congressman Higgins on a letter to House leadership urging inclusion of oral chemo parity in the next coronavirus emergency legislation are Congressmembers Brett Guthrie, Doris Matsui and Gus Bilirakis. They write, “Because those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for contracting COVID19, people with cancer are particularly vulnerable at this time. It is more important than ever that cancer patients are able to access oral anti-cancer medications that they can take at home.”
Despite the fact that oral chemotherapy is popular with both patients and oncologists, insurance coverage for cancer treatments has not kept up with some of the most promising oncology research. Consequently, some cancer patients lack access to potentially lifesaving oral therapies. While IV treatments are usually covered under a plan’s medical benefit component, orally administered anti-cancer medications are covered under a plan’s prescription drug component, which often requires a higher percentage of cost-sharing for the patient. Studies have consistently shown that, when faced with high co-pays for orally administered anti-cancer drugs, some patients choose to simply not fill a prescription.
Over 50 cancer organizations also recently wrote to Congressional leadership listing oral chemo parity among their priorities for cancer patients during the coronavirus outbreak.
Cancer is a relentless disease that impacts millions of Americans. Just this year more than 1.8 million people in the US are expected to be diagnosed with cancer, and over 600,000 Americans will die from the disease. Because those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, people with cancer are particularly vulnerable at this time. Early estimates show that the mortality rate for cancer patients who contract the virus is around 6 percent, nearly seven times higher than that for patients with no underlying medical conditions.
On March 13, 2019, Congressman Higgins announced H.R. 1730, the Cancer Drug Parity Act, a bill that would require all insurance payers to offer oral cancer medications with the same cost-sharing as IV cancer treatments. The legislation has 129 cosponsors in the House and 17 cosponsors in the Senate.