Susan G Komen advocates for two new bills bettering breast cancer treatment

By: Sophia Hernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 6, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – Advocates and survivors with Susan G Komen Florida spoke to legislators Wednesday morning regarding two new bills, which are aimed at making breast cancer treatments more accessible and costs fairer.

According to statistics provided by Susan G Komen, 1 in 8 women and 1 in 833 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. One of those men, James Keegan, says he remembers when he received his diagnosis.

"It was difficult at first because being a man it is different," Keegan says. "Initially, we did what we had to do but I did not really talk about it until after I was done with chemo which was a year after the surgery."

The survivor since 2013 says his treatment was extensive.

"I had chemotherapy for one year, for six months weekly, the next six months over 21 days," he says.

Randi Binder sympathizes and relates to Keegan's story.

A survivor since 2016, she still gets emotional speaking about her struggle with the disease.

"When I was going through my cancer I made a promise that if I got through it I would find a way to give back."

And Wednesday morning at the Capitol, she made good on her promise.

"Sadly there are a lot of women that can't be here, won't be here, and aren't able to be a voice. So I made a promise to be a voice for those that could not," Binder says.

Binder and Kegan, along with other advocates and survivors, have made it their mission to help others in the fight for their lives.

Binder expresses that treatment is not just imperative when you are battling cancer, but it's also important while the disease is in remission.

"There's never a day that you don't really think about it, it's something you are going to have to live with for the rest of your life," she says. "I'm going to have to be monitored with blood tests and diagnostic testing for the rest of my life."

That testing is expensive and extensive. Keegan says that for many patients, whether or not they can afford their medications, determines how soon they begin their treatments.

"When I hear stories of people with no insurance or inadequate insurance it is actually scary because the cost can amount so quickly and it delays the process," she says.

The first bill Susan G Komen Florida is advocating for is House Bill 261, otherwise known as the Step Four Advanced Metastatic Cancer Step Therapy.

The bill looks to move away from what is currently in place, a method called 'step therapy' also known as 'fail first'. That method requires a patient to first try a preferred drug or drugs by their insurance company instead of the originally prescribed drug by their health provider. This practice allows health plans to employ control costs by beginning treatment with usually more cost-effective therapies, and then progressing to newer, more costly methods, but only if deemed necessary.

Keegan says the trial period, which could take years, hinders the healing process towards remission.

"Everything we hear says act quickly and that just delays the process."
Kate Watt, executive director of Susan G Komen Florida, says. "Women and men who are battling metastatic cancer, it is about time. It is about having access to the prescription drugs that their physicians have ordered and making sure their quality of life is the best it can be."

Binder explained further.

"There are targeted therapies that a woman diagnosed with stage four breast cancer should be on, but the insurance companies make that patient go through steps one fail it steps three fail it, and by that time sadly a lot of these women die before they are able to take the medication that they need that would make them survive," she says.

The hope with the Metastatic Cancer Step Therapy is to allow those with stage four metastatic cancer to receive the medication or treatments that their healthcare provider deems necessary for their specific needs, rather than abiding by the medication their insurance wishes to cover.

The other bill they are hoping gets passed, Senate Bill 416, otherwise known as Diagnostic Imaging Coverage, hopes to eliminate the cost differences between screening mammograms and diagnostic imaging.

Binder says a lot of women can't afford those out of pocket costs for the procedures to diagnose the disease. As a result, the cancer goes undiagnosed and grows into metastatic breast cancer.

"When a woman gets a mammogram, a mammogram does not tell her if she has breast cancer or not, it says she might have cancer," Binder says. "And the insurance companies will pay for that mammogram, but they won't pay for the additional diagnostic testing that is needed to confirm the diagnosis and also to determine what form she has and to know how to treat it."

Others like Kate Watts hope that legislators they spoke to understand their plea.

"They are fighting the most aggressive form of cancer and we need to be there to make sure that they have the treatments they need to do that," Watts says.

Jackie Tolledo a State Representative with District 60 backs both bills.

"Cost should never be a factor to saving your life," she says. "This should be something that we do not ever consider, and we want to make sure that women have this access available to them."

Survivors like Keegan say they hope changes are made.

"These bills are important and breast cancer is not just gender specific, it is breast cancer," Keegan says. "It is not men's breast cancer it is not women's breast cancer it is just breast cancer. "

Binder says these bills can go far.

"There is life on the other side of it," she says.

These bills passed in the bipartisan women's caucus. The next step for these bills is to be heard and passed by three different committees before making it to legislative session.

Copyright 2019 WCTV. All rights reserved.