House members call for equal access to affordable oral chemotherapy prescription drugs amidst COVID-19 outbreak

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Members of the House of Representatives are 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.

Brian Higgins (D-NY), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) sent a letter to House leadership urging inclusion of oral chemo parity in the next coronavirus emergency legislation.

“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,” the House members wrote.

Though 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 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 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.

Because those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, people with cancer are particularly vulnerable. Early estimates show that the mortality rate for cancer patients who contract the virus is around 6%, nearly seven times higher than that for patients with no underlying medical conditions.

On March 13, 2019, 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.

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