Bill to allow oral chemotherapy dies in Senate

Friday, April 7, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 14
By Sam Stockard

Legislation designed to lower the cost of oral chemotherapy will have to wait until next year.

Sen. Bill Ketron, who fought through cancer two years ago, removed his bill from consideration this week after losing support from one of the senators he needed to pass the bill this year. He placed it on the first calendar in 2018, the second year of the 110th General Assembly.

Rep. William Lamberth, who is sponsoring the House version, postponed his measure, as well, after Ketron opted for the delay. The bill prohibits an insurance provider from requiring a higher insurance co-payment for oral anti-cancer medication than for injected chemotherapy medication.

But a pharmaceutical price reporting requirement was placed on the House version, which could have been a poison pill of sorts.

“I’m still hopeful we can pass it in the future,” Lamberth said, “to help people suffering from cancer.”

Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican, started cancer treatment in November 2014 after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. During the 2015 legislative session, he took small periods away from General Assembly duties for chemotherapy but is in remission and in much better health.

The experience gave him a different perspective on cancer treatment, and he began pursuing legislation to make chemotherapy more convenient and affordable.

“My passion is there because when I was going through chemo, I sat in the chemo suite for eight hours and watched people who came from as far away as Jamestown and Kentucky, having to sit there because they couldn’t drive, because you can’t drive. You have to have a caregiver, who many times has to give up their job to come with the patient going through the chemo,” Ketron said.

If doctors could prescribe a pill to treat the cancer, it would be more compassionate for that type of medication to be covered by insurance companies, enabling patients to stay at home rather than travel to cancer treatment facilities and be hooked up to an IV, Ketron said.

According to the Republican senator from Murfreesboro, the only way for a patient to receive oral chemotherapy treatment is to be placed by an oncologist into a research study. In eight out of 12 types of chemotherapy, though, the pill is the only type of treatment because an IV injection doesn’t work, Ketron said.

The pill used to be extremely expensive, according to Ketron, but 43 states have approved legislation taking oral chemotherapy medication out of the pharmaceutical portion of a patient’s major health-care coverage and shifting it into their major medical coverage.

“We’re hoping for us to be 44,” he said.

Lamberth initially planned to keep moving his bill after the House Insurance and Banking Committee approved an amended version but said he saw no use in pursuing it if the Senate version is on hold.

Legislators largely supported the basis of the bill but got stuck over an amendment making pharmaceutical companies file a report with the state Department of Commerce and Insurance if the price of their oral chemo medication increases 10 percent in a fiscal year.

Lamberth, a Sumner County Republican, said he was afraid the amendment would lead to the bill’s demise because it could bring opposition from the pharmaceutical industry.

Other legislators, though, said they felt the amendment was justifiable because the legislation placed a “mandate” on the insurance industry.

“I would have preferred a good, clean bill,” Lamberth said, noting the amendment drew the pharmaceutical industry into the argument, in addition to the insurance industry.

Sam Stockard can be reached at