As the current legislative session was coming to an end Tuesday, the Senate sent a bill to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk that makes oral chemotherapy more affordable.
The Senate had already approved an unamended version of the bill on a nearly unanimous vote, but the Assembly amended the bill. The Senate needed to approve the changes before sending the final version to Walker, who has indicated he would sign the bill.
The Senate approved the Assembly changes on a 26-7 bipartisan vote.
The bill gives insurance companies the option to either charge the same price for oral and intravenous chemotherapy or to ask for a $100 co-payment, which would increase starting in 2016.
The Assembly added the co-payment option before finishing up its legislative session last month, putting pressure on the Senate to approve the Assembly’s version so that the bill would not die this session.
“Today it is better to act than not to act,” Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who introduced the initial version of the bill, said.
Some legislators voiced opposition to accepting the amendment from the Assembly, saying it was unnecessary and citing the fact that Walker had said he would sign the original version of the bill before the Assembly added the amendment.
Others said the amendment does not go far enough in decreasing costs for cancer patients because while it limits co-payments to $100 for each prescription received each month, patients often require multiple prescriptions at the same time.
“This is going to be a very, very expensive amendment for the people who can least afford it,” Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said. “It’s not a $100 co-pay, it’s a $100 co-pay per prescription, per month.”
Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, said if the Senate had rejected the Assembly’s amendment, the bill would have gone back to the Assembly for reconsideration, and it is unlikely the Assembly would agree to come back to vote on the bill again this session.
The original goal of the bill was to create cost parity for cancer patients, Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said. However, she said the Assembly’s amendment changed the bill’s purpose.
“The Senate did the right thing, and the Assembly did not,” Taylor said. “I hope the headlines will reflect that.”
[Photo from Flickr user liz west]