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Wisconsin Senate Approves Cancer Drug Bill, Assembly will Vote Thursday


The state Senate voted 30 to 2 Tuesday, to advance bill making a chemotherapy pill less expensive, despite earlier tactics to block a vote.

A cancer drug bill pre-occupied Wisconsin legislators on Tuesday. The bill would require insurance companies to charge patients the same for chemotherapy pills as for getting chemo via an I-V at a hospital. The pills are now much more expensive.

Initially, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald blocked the measure, but when he let senators vote Tuesday, they approved the bill 30-2. Republicans Leah Vukmir and Paul Farrow were the two senators who voted against the bill Tuesday, but they did not speak on the floor.

It was an emotional discussion, with senators from both parties talking about their personal experiences with cancer.

Democratic Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville says he’s battled the disease twice. He says in many cases, oral medication is the answer.

“It may only be something that extends somebody’s life for 30 more days. But, to have 30 days left to say good bye to your family, and not have to get hauled, sometimes many miles, someplace to have the chemo administered through the IV. Rather just take it home, to avoid the tiredness that you feel when you’ve been beaten down by the chemo in an attempt to save your life,” Cullen says.

Another cancer survivor is the lead sponsor of the measure, Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills. She says constituents have been bombarding her with phone calls in the past few weeks. She says residents even approached her repeatedly on Monday while she had St. Patrick’s Day lunch in her district.

“They were people from all walks of life. I’m not kidding you and I got hit over and over and over again. People are so involved in this issue and you know why? Because so many people have had parents, family members or themselves have had cancer or their children,” Darling says.

Darling called oral chemo the wave of the future and says Wisconsin would join 29 other states in providing equal costs for both methods.

As soon as some members of the Assembly heard the Senate passed the bill, they wanted to bring it to their floor. Speaker Robin Vos promised the Assembly would take up the bill on Thursday. He also signaled Republicans might amend the bill.

“We’re going to put this bill on and we’re going to have a full discussion of what it’s going to be. It’s my hope that we’re able to sit down in good faith and present some things that will help to make the bill as effective as possible, remembering in California that the exact bill we are debating today was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and some changes were made to it which made it more effective. That’s why we have a committee process. That’s why when people play politics on the floor of this Legislature by doing things that are focused more on scoring points as opposed to helping people, frustrate me,” Vos says.

Some Democrats took offense to Vos’ comments, including Rep. Mandela Barnes of Milwaukee.

“To wait until Thursday is the only political game that’s being played. Here in the Assembly we can’t bring it up for whatever reason because we need to wait until Thursday, one of the most controversial days of this entire session. The time is always right to do what’s right, Mr. Speaker,” Barnes says.

Thursday is expected to be the Assembly’s last day of the two-year session. Other issues on the docket include changes in voting procedures and sanctions on failing voucher schools, two controversial items.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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