Deadline draws near for bill cutting cancer patients' costs

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MADISON, EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP,WEAU) - Gov. Scott Walker's spokeswoman says he will sign the latest version of a bill that would help cancer patients purchase chemotherapy pills, but it's still unclear if the proposal will clear the Senate.

The bill would require health insurance companies to charge the same for the pills, which can be taken at home but cost thousands of dollars a month, as they do for intravenous treatments.

The Senate passed the measure overwhelmingly earlier this week. The Assembly amended it early Friday morning, however, to cap co-pays at $100. The bill now must clear the Senate again. The chamber has one session day left this year.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Scott Fitzgerald says Fitzgerald was still reviewing the amendment Friday morning.

Shirley Radcliffe of Alma Center says life has been more challenging since she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

"It's been very hard because I can't breathe very good and I have to do a little and sit down. Before this, I was a very active person, and I took of other patients of my own. So it makes it pretty rough when the shoe's on the other foot," Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe, a patient at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, started taking chemotherapy pills, that have one clear benefit over I.V. treatments.

"It makes it a heck of a lot more convenient for one thing, you don't have to be running 50 miles every day one way. It's wear and tear on your car and everything else."

But the cost of these pills is hard to swallow.

"The doctor gave us an estimate of $55,000 a year." "I don't think (insurance) covers much."

"Many times the co pay or fixed deductible on specialty cancer meds can sometimes run into the thousands of dollars and that's set by the pharmaceutical company itself," Dr. Dean Delmastro, an oncologist with Marshfield Clinic Cancer Care at Sacred Heart Hospital said.

Help may be on the way. The state senate passed the bill that would require insurance companies to charge the same amount for the pills as I.V. treatments but the assembly changed it, putting a cap on a co-pay cost at $100 per month. The senate must now vote again on Apr. 1 before Gov. Scott Walker can sign it into law.

"I definitely think we need that because there isn't very many people like I said that could pay that and I certainly can't," Radcliffe said.

"There are patients who sometimes have to choose other treatments because they simply cannot afford the pills. Those treatments may be more toxic, they're certainly more time consuming and for the patient, oftentimes does not give them the optimum level of care," Delmastro said.

"A lot of them have been denied because they couldn't afford to do it and that's a shame," Radcliffe said.

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