JACKSON — Health insurers would be banned from making patients pay higher out-of-pocket costs for oral medication taken at home than for chemotherapy received in a health care facility, under a bill moving through the Mississippi Legislature.
One version of House Bill 952 passed the Senate after more than an hour of debate Wednesday. It will likely go to a final round of House-Senate negotiations later this month.
Republican Sen. Terry Burton of Newton said more than 30 other states already do what Mississippi is proposing. He said it is unfair to patients that insurers won’t cover a big portion of the cost for cancer-fighting drugs that are available only in pill form.
Burton said several of his friends, including former senators, have had to sit for hours in hospital rooms for the slow drip of chemotherapy, and the treatments sometimes left them feeling so ill that they had to spend extra days there.
“Why in the world would anybody have to come up with more money out of their pocket to take a drug in the comfort of their own home?” Burton said.
Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, one of the three senators who voted against the bill, said the state should not dictate terms of private contracts, including insurance coverage.
The Senate fell silent as Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, talked about his wife’s recent diagnosis with breast cancer. He said he wondered immediately how he and his wife would pay the medical bills, even with her relatively good insurance coverage.
“When it’s you, it’s different,” Wiggins said. “I support the private market. I support capitalism. But it’s easy to stand up here and talk about it when it’s not affecting you.”
McDaniel responded that he and his wife have both lost loved ones to cancer, and he’s sorry for what the Wiggins family is experiencing. McDaniel said that doesn’t mean it is right for the government to interfere in the private market.
“The cost is too high. The cost is prohibitive. It’s a nightmare,” McDaniel said of cancer treatment. “It’s because of the government regulations and interference that we are paying this cost, and that’s why the philosophy matters.”
Others voting against the bill Wednesday were Republican Sens. Melanie Sojourner of Natchez and Michael Watson of Pascagoula. Republican Sen. Angela Hill of Picayune voted “present,” which counted neither for nor against the bill.
Several organizations, including the lobbying group for the American Cancer Society, held a news conference last week to urge legislators to pass House Bill 952. Brandon resident Jennifer Burrell-Richards said she was diagnosed in 2013 with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, and her medication is available only as a pill. Still, she said her insurance company paid less for the pill than it would have for an intravenous drip form of chemotherapy. She said that left her family with out-of-pocket expenses that ranged from $1,300 to $1,800 a month.
“Debt is piling up,” Burrell-Richards said March 2 at the Capitol.
Online: House Bill 952, http://bit.ly/1b29ogi .
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