TOPSAIL BEACH, NC (WECT) - North Carolinians are still being forced to choose between the best cancer treatment possible and treatments they can afford more than a year after hundreds rallied for #MakeCancerCareFair Day in the North Carolina General Assembly.
"Unfortunately, there's not a lot to update on," said cancer survivor John Gunter, who first spoke with WECT in June 2017. "It's still in the same place it was a year ago, which is in the Senate Rules Committee and it's been sitting there for a year. The legislature was in session briefly in February and again right now, but only for another week or less. It's going to end soon and we're desperate to get this bill out."
Senate Bill 152 — the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act — sits in the committee Gunter mentioned as legislators near their summer break. Gunter said the House passed the bill, but the Senate has not budged.
The bill would mandate insurance companies to cover both intravenous and oral chemotherapy medications for cancer patients.
"If this bill does not pass, then a person who is diagnosed with cancer this year faces the possibility of having to choose between a lower cost but less effective IV treatment or a higher cost, newer and more effective oral treatment," Gunter said. "That's a bad choice to have to make."
Health insurance companies charge a co-pay fee for chemotherapy administered by intravenous needle.
Many newer, often more effective, chemotherapy treatments are taken orally and insurance companies classify these as a prescription and charge a higher co-pay.
"The insurance companies do not want to see it go, so we need pressure on, in particular, the Senate president, who is Senator (Phil) Berger to give calls, emails to get this moving for it," Gunter said.
Forty-two other states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws.
"(Legislators) need to view every North Carolina resident as a potential cancer patient," Gunter said. "A thousand people get diagnosed with cancer every week in North Carolina and every one of them could be helped by this bill because the treatments get better and better. More of them are going oral, so the best treatment that's available is an oral medication instead of an IV medication and the oral medications are going to cost more money to the patient."
The price difference between oral and IV treatments is often hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
"I've had to take the medication both ways," Gunter said. "Fortunately, the last time I took it, the medication was very effective but my cancer is not curable. It's in remission and I know someday it will come back. When it comes back, it's very likely that the most effective medication might be an oral therapy."
Cancer organizations have worked to get lawmakers to pass the bill, but Gunter said the politics have kept it from moving out of the Senate Rules Committee.
"They need to view North Carolinians as patients, not political pieces to push around. This is being played by politics," he said.
With the General Assembly just days away from wrapping up for the summer, Gunter says the constituents could help push the bill through.
"We really need their help and anything people can do to call them, email them, speak to them personally, whatever they can do because the Leukemia Society has tried but they need to hear from their constituents on what can be done here," he said.