A House committee chaired by a local lawmaker has again delayed legislation designed to expand access to a different type of chemotherapy.

Supporters were hoping for a first public hearing on Thursday but that didn’t happen and the House Insurance Committee quickly sent the oral chemotherapy fairness bill to a different committee. Oral chemotherapy is done with a pill instead of an IV. IV chemotherapy is covered with a co-pay, but the pills fall under the pharmaceutical category, so patients who aren't covered have to pay up to thousands of dollars per month. Michigan is one of only seven states without a law requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of different types of chemotherapy equally.

The legislation has died in a House committee three times since 2009, leading to allegations some Republican lawmakers and their insurance company allies want to kill the bill. The House Insurance Committee is chaired by Republican State Representative Lana Theis of Brighton Township, whose top four campaign donors are insurance companies. A report by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network showed that the Michigan Insurance Coalition, which represents the state’s largest auto insurers, contributed $80,000 last fall to the Leading Michigan Forward Fund, an “administrative fund” run by Theis’s husband.

Theis maintains the action is not tied to insurance company campaign contributors and tells WHMI the bills were referred to the Health Policy Committee because it’s working on pending legislation to address the transparency of pharmaceutical companies. She says it makes sense that the bills be sent to the same committee so they can be worked on together. Theis noted that while the majority of other states have passed legislation dealing with oral chemo parity, it is not identical across those states; and nearly all of them have followed up by passing additional laws to control the resulting increases in prescription drug costs. Left unregulated, she says the mandate increases costs to insurers and thus raises premiums.

Theis says big pharmaceutical companies take advantage of these government mandates; and in an era of exponentially increasing insurance premiums, giving pharmaceutical companies the opportunity for a blank check is unwise and would harm those without insurance the most. Her full statement is attached. (JM)