U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) led a bipartisan group of senators in calling on House and Senate leadership to make sure the next coronavirus relief package includes their Cancer Drug Parity Act, which would make sure oral cancer drugs are covered in the same way as traditional intravenous (IV) chemotherapy.

Right now, doctors are advising cancer patients to stay at home as much as possible. Switching to oral medications when medically appropriate would allow for patients to self-administer and stay in their homes, but making the switch to oral medications may not be financially feasible. Sens. Smith and Moran want to fix that.

“The Cancer Drug Parity Act has garnered bipartisan support in Congress with 129 bipartisan sponsors in the House and 17 bipartisan sponsors in the Senate. This bill would make life-improving and lifesaving oral cancer medications affordable for the millions of Americans suffering from cancer,” wrote Sens. Smith, Moran and their Senate colleagues. “This bill would make oral cancer drugs available at the same cost-sharing rate as traditional intravenous (IV) chemotherapy under federally regulated commercial health plans that already cover both oral and IV chemotherapy.

“Cancer patients are uniquely at risk to contract COVID-19, influenza, and other infections due to their compromised immune systems.  Recent data has shown that a cancer patient that becomes infected with COVID-19 has about a 6 percent case fatality rate, which is almost 7 times higher than an individual with no underlying diseases.  At a time when doctors are advising cancer patients to stay at home as much as possible, for some patients, switching to oral medications when medically appropriate may not be financially feasible. While IV treatments are covered under a healthcare plan’s medical benefits, meaning moderate to minimal copays, oral cancer medications are self-administered and covered under pharmacy benefits. This means patients are required to pay a percentage of the medication’s overall cost, leading to high, often unaffordable copays. States have already started taking action to help these patients, with over 40 states and the District of Columbia enacting ‘oral parity’ laws that stop health plans from creating separate cost-sharing plans for oral and self-administered cancer medicines.  The Cancer Drug Parity Act would build on this work to prevent insurers from covering oral and self-administered medicines at different cost sharing rates than IV chemotherapy.”

The letter sent Thursday was also signed by Sens. Angus S. King, Jr. (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

You can access the letter here