Wisconsin Republican Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald is using a procedural trick to prevent a vote on a bill that would make oral chemotherapy more affordable. Although the majority of the Senate approves of the bill, (it would pass 18-15 with some Republican support) Fitzgerald is preventing the vote because a majority of Republicans in the Senate do not support it. Not only is this an extremely anti-democratic reason, it's also a lie. The truth is, Wisconsin Republicans are blocking this bill in order to protect health insurers from increased costs to the detriment of cancer patients.
Oral chemotherapy, which is as effective as chemotherapy received using injections, represents a huge increase in the quality of life of cancer patients. They no longer have to go to a hospital or clinic and spend hours receiving their medication via painful injections. Oral chemotherapy also has fewer side effects and can be in some circumstances more effective than injections. With all of these benefits, it's unsurprising that cancer patients would prefer oral chemotherapy. The problem is that health insurers have made the drugs unaffordable.
Health insurers use a definitional sleight-of-hand to define oral chemo as a pharmacy benefit, which allows them to charge cancer patients up to 50% of the cost of the drugs without having those costs applied to their annual out-of-pocket limits. For many cancer patients, this can mean costs upwards of $40,000. Again, there is no real difference between the oral or injection chemo drugs. This change in definition is simply a way for health insurers to push their costs onto those suffering from cancer.
26 states and the District of Columbia have already passed consumer protections that prevent health insurers from making the distinction between the chemotherapy drugs. Wisconsin Republicans, however, are more concerned about protecting health insurance profits than the human dignity of the citizens of Wisconsin who are fighting for their lives against cancer. This is just another example of Wisconsin Republicans putting our state behind the curve when it comes to human decency.
If you have someone that you love or care about who is fighting against cancer, I hope you remember which political party stood with health insurers over cancer patients when you go to vote in November. And if this matters to you, please take the time to contact your state representative to express your feelings.
In unrelated* news, Wisconsin Republicans recently voted to increase the amount of time they can receive donations from lobbyists and are seeking to double the amount of money an individual can give to a candidate running for public office. In 2013 alone, health insurers spent nearly $3 million on lobbying.
*By unrelated, I mean totally related.