Cancer patients need fair access to treatments

Cancer knows no bounds. It is the “Emperor of All Maladies,” as Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee noted in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title. It affects everyone in its path, regardless of race, color, or creed.

Just recently, it hit home once again when Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., disclosed his diagnosis of prostate cancer. While cancer continues to evolve, there are new bipartisan solutions that can increase access to drugs, invest in groundbreaking research, and raise hope for millions of Americans.

I know both the pain and hope of cancer firsthand. My father has been surviving with multiple myeloma since his diagnosis seven years ago. Last October, our family lost another loved one to this same disease. I had never heard of myeloma prior to my dad’s diagnosis, but our family’s journey inspired me to focus my career on healthcare policy issues. My journey began on the inside as a congressional staffer and continues now through patient advocacy.

From new CAR-T cell therapies, to research utilizing artificial intelligence, we are making great strides in the way we treat cancer. Teaming with other advocates in the cancer community, our current focus rests on making all anti-cancer treatments available to every patient. In this effort, we just recently took a big step forward.

Last month, the Cancer Drug Parity Act was introduced in both chambers of Congress. It has 29 co-sponsors in the House (H.R. 1730) and nine in the Senate (S. 741). The bill calls for equal coverage of all anti-cancer treatments — whether delivered through IV or in pill form — under federally regulated health plans. To date, nearly every state has passed similar bills in their legislatures.

The legislation is a common-sense answer to a problem facing cancer patients. Far too often, we hear of patients diagnosed with various forms of cancer facing high cost-sharing for self-administered treatments, such as oral drugs. This is due to the way their insurer’s benefit design plan works. The Cancer Drug Parity Act updates outdated plan designs. It does not mandate cancer treatment coverage. The bill simply calls for similar cost-sharing for patients, regardless of how the treatment is delivered.

This issue may be familiar to many members of Congress, as 43 states have passed similar laws that affect state-regulated insurance plans. As such, we have welcomed many new co-sponsors to this bipartisan legislation over the past few months. With this momentum, the bill is on track to reach new milestones in both chambers.

There is real progress being made in the fight against cancer. But treatments can only help the patients who have access to them. Time is critical and millions of cancer patients cannot afford to wait. By offering common-sense, bipartisan solutions such as the Cancer Drug Parity Act, we can bring all patients across the finish line.

Just a few years before my father’s diagnosis, the medication keeping him alive today did not exist. By increasing access to new treatments through legislation such as the Cancer Drug Parity Act, patients gain hope. Imagine how many lives we can save a few years from now.

Danielle Doheny is director of public policy and advocacy for the International Myeloma Foundation.

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