SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The COVID-19 pandemic put most of the world on pause as scientists and doctors worked on the best ways to help people. Like so many other afflictions, cancer didn't stop during the pandemic. Many people were diagnosed or died from the disease over the last year.
Advocates are working with Illinois lawmakers to ensure patients receive the best treatment, whether it's in the hospital or at home.
The group hopes lawmakers will support a plan to expand coverage of biomarker testing for public and private insurance plans. These tests can find abnormal functions in your blood, tissue, or fluids that can help a doctor quickly diagnose cancer and create the best treatment plan.
Advocates explained the tests are usually only available near larger cities. They want to make sure everyone can receive the same health care, regardless of zip code.
"There are a lot of people in rural Illinois that need access to that testing as well," said Roger Crawford, Lead State Ambassador for the American Cancer Society. "We want to make sure that everyone has that equal access for better outcomes."
Prescription drug benefits
Another proposal senators could pass this month would help cancer patients manage prescription costs. Advocates say less than 10% of the 500 plans offered in Illinois allow people to pay monthly. They feel House Bill 1745 could give patients the tools for lower costs. It could also lower co-pays so patients don't have to decide between paying for monthly bills or their prescriptions.
"When you're fighting cancer in a hospital, those bills come six months to a year after you received them," said Shana Crews, Illinois Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society. "When you're treating cancer at the prescription drug counter, you have to pay up front before you have access to treatment. So really, these two issues work in tandem with each other."
Crews also explained neither plan has a fiscal impact on Illinois. The insurance market handles prescription drug affordability, while the biomarker plan would work for state-regulated plans and Medicaid.
"The really unique thing about biomarker testing is because it gets the right treatment to the right patient at the right time, there's a cost savings," Crews said. "Very similar to past measures like step therapy, instead of the health care system wasting time and resources on treatments that are never going to work for that patient, you're able to use targeted therapies and go right to what you know will work. So, you actually see a cost savings to Medicaid programs as well."
Both of the proposals passed out of the House last month with unanimous support. Sen. Napoleon Harris III (D-Harvey) is now the lead sponsor of the prescription drug benefits legislation. Meanwhile, Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) is leading the biomarker testing plan in the Senate.
Breast & cervical cancer screening
The group also hopes lawmakers will consider keeping funding set aside for the state's breast and cervical cancer program at the current level of $14.5 million.
"This covers screenings for people who don't have insurance," Crawford explained. "If you can screen someone and find cancer at a very early stage the costs will be much less than it would be to find cancer at a much later stage. We've been very fortunate that the state has funded this at the level that we need it to be. I'm just hopeful that they can continue to do that."
The legislative session is set to end on May 31.