Senate pushes for oral cancer drugs in next COVID-19 bill

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A bipartisan group of senators led by Tina Smith (D-MN) is urging congressional leadership to ensure the next coronavirus relief package includes oral cancer drug coverage.

In a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the group urged Congress to consider how the pandemic is affecting patient access to cancer medications, particularly oral cancer drugs.

"We write to urge House leadership to consider the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer patients seeking treatment during this emergency and include the bipartisan Cancer Drug Parity Act (HR 1730/S 741) in the next coronavirus stimulus bill," the group wrote.

The legislation would make oral cancer drugs available at the same cost-sharing rate as intravenous chemotherapy, according to the letter's authors.

"Advances in oral cancer medications have made a real difference," the group wrote. "The medicine is less intrusive than traditional IV treatments and allows patients to receive treatment in their homes. Furthermore, for many, oral cancer medications have turned what was once a death sentence into a manageable disease."

Intravenous cancer treatments are covered under medical benefits, but oral cancer medications are covered under pharmacy benefits -- which means that patients often have high co-pays, the group wrote.

"The Cancer Drug Parity Act would ... prevent insurers from covering oral and self-administered medicines at different cost-sharing rates than IV chemotherapy," the authors noted.

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