The Oklahoma Senate will soon consider legislation preventing private insurance companies from penalizing critically ill patients who enter clinical trials after a Senate Committee cleared the bill today.
Known as “Steffanie’s Law”, Senate Bill 1521 by State Senator Andrew Rice (D-OKC), passed the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee by a 5-2 vote with State Senator Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) joining all four Democrats on the committee in support.
“This is an important step toward relieving Oklahoma families of the risk of losing their health insurance coverage by participating in clinical trials,” Rice said.
Rice’s bill seeks to require private insurance companies to continue covering routine health care costs after a patient resorts to clinical trials, sometimes as a last hope for a cure.
“Families in Oklahoma should not have to decide between potential life-saving treatments and personal financial ruin,” Rice said. “There is little evidence that routine health care costs for clinical trial patients are any higher than costs for patients who are not enrolled in trials.”
Rice noted that patients who qualify for government Medicare or Medicaid insurance do not face the same dilemma because both programs recognize and encourage clinical trials when doctors recommend them.
“Insurance industry claims that this mandate will raise premiums in Oklahoma are bogus,” Rice said. “Clinical trials that are frequently paid for by drug companies and treatment facilities can actually reduce critical health care costs down the road when they prove successful.”
Rice’s bill is named after an area teenager, Steffanie Collings, who has been fighting brain cancer since she was 14. Her parents did not hesitate when they were told she might be helped by clinical trial treatments. However, their insurance company stopped paying Steffanie’s medical bills and the family is now strapped with more than $400,000 in debt.
Earlier this week, Rice was critical of House Republican leaders who forced passage of a bill that would make it harder for the legislature to consider mandated insurance coverage legislation like “Steffanie’s Law”. He called the House bill a “sellout” to a special interest which wants no interference from Oklahoma elected representatives who are acting in the interests of their constituents.
“Most mandates, like requirements for coverage of mammograms and diabetes screening, actually save overall health care costs,” Rice said. “However, without legislative intervention in Oklahoma, those preventive measures would still not be covered by private insurance policies.”
Nancy Thomason, Founder and President of Oklahoma Brain Tumor Foundation, said, today’s passage is a real victory for the citizens of Oklahoma.
“We hope to keep the bipartisan momentum and get this approved by the entire legislature,” Thomason said. “It is 100% fabrication that mandates drive up the price of health insurance. These powerful insurance companies are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in profit. These companies use it as an excuse to increase premiums and rob Oklahoma citizens.”
Monty Collings said his daughter’s health has declined, but her spirit stays strong. In and out of consciousness, she smiled at him this morning when he said he was going to the State Capitol to do everything he could to move the bill forward and onto the Senate floor.
“I prayed for this on the way to the Capitol today,” Collings said. “I think this bill will help more families in Oklahoma than the Senators realize.