Florida lawmakers gave final approval Friday evening to legislation that would require health insurers to provide the same level of coverage for cancer treatments given orally as those drugs administered intravenously.
Supporters barely got the bill (HB 1159) over the finish line before the Legislature ended its 60-day session. The legislation now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration.
In a session where lawmakers couldn't agree on expanding the state's Medicaid program, they were in cync in voting to require health insurers to treat cancer patients the same, whether they take pills or receive IVs to fight the disease.
Twenty-one other states already have similar laws.
The cancer coverage proposal was championed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican whose mother died of cancer.
Cancer medications in pill form are often much more expensive than those drugs given intravenously.
"Right now you cannot get oral medication if you have cancer at the same cost as you can the drug that goes into your vein," Benacquisto said during the final debate on the measure.
She said the oral medication is "manufactured for a lower price, it costs less to administer, it is easier on the patient. And allows you more time at home with your family."
Those additional out-of-pocket expenses can be financially crippling for cancer patients treated with oral medications, Benacquisto said.
During her Senate speech, Benacquisto held up a photo of her mother that she said she kept at her desk in the final days of the legislative session to give her fortitude in pushing for the legislation.
An emotional Benacquisto was hugged by several of her colleagues after the Senate passed the bill on a 37-2 vote. A short time earlier the bill had cleared the House on a 103-13 vote.
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said the parity requirement for cancer patients, regardless of their treatment, could save lives. He noted that he, too, lost a parent to cancer.
"It was a long, long painful death," he said.
The cancer treatment provisions were tucked into a larger bill dealing with several other health-care issues, which complicated efforts to win final passage.
The cancer-related sections won't take effect until July 1, 2014.