- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 11, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Legislation that prohibits health insurers from holding proton radiation cancer therapy to a higher standard of clinical effectiveness than other radiation therapies was overwhelmingly approved Wednesday by the Oklahoma House.

Without debate, House members voted 97-0 as cancer survivors who had been treated with proton therapy watched from the gallery. It now goes to the state Senate for a vote.

Proton therapy is a medical procedure that uses a beam of protons to irradiate diseased tissue and was approved for cancer treatment by the Food and Drug Administration in 1988.

Its chief advantage over other radiation therapy treatments: It can more precisely localize the radiation dose, reducing side effects to surrounding tissue, according to the measure’s author, Rep. Marion Cooksey. “This has met the test, and it is better than traditional radiation,” the Edmond Republican said while introducing the measure to House members.

But the therapy’s cost has prompted some health insurance companies to require it meet an even higher level of clinical evidence than other forms of radiation therapy. Cooksey said traditional radiation therapies can cost around $9,000 while proton therapy costs about $14,000.

The bill provides guidelines for insurers to use when deciding whether to cover proton radiation therapy and ensures that the physician has the final say - not the insurance company, she said.

“They justify this decision by citing the lack of long-term studies, but it’s not really a valid argument,” Cooksey said.

Passage of the measure was welcomed by a cancer survivor who said he benefited from proton therapy.

“It honestly was a blessing,” Mike Bible, 69, of Oklahoma City, said. A Vietnam veteran, Bible said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012 and received proton radiation therapy at a facility in Oklahoma City in 2013. His treatments were paid for by Medicare.

“It leaves no side effects. I was able to go along with my quality of life,” Bible said. “Regular radiation is like a shotgun. But proton therapy is very targeted, it’s better than a rifle. It targets the tumor. There’s no damage to any other organs.”

Bible said he is now cancer-free and that other Vietnam veterans he knows have also received proton therapy.

“The long-term benefits are so essential,” Bible said.



House Bill 1515: https://bit.ly/1Ea8MQC

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