Sacramento, Calif. — American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) volunteers from across California rallied at the State Capitol on Tuesday and urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would ensure comprehensive biomarker testing is covered by more insurance plans, including Medi-Cal, when supported by medical and scientific evidence.
“Every year on California Cancer Action Day, cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and advocates meet with our legislators to remind them of the critical role they play to help end cancer as we know it, for everyone,” said P. Kay Coleman, ACS CAN State Lead Ambassador. “They currently have the opportunity to help more Californians diagnosed with cancer get the most effective treatment options by increasing access to biomarker testing.”
Biomarker testing is key to unlocking precision medicine, including targeted therapies, which can lead to improved survivorship and quality of life for cancer patients and others with serious illnesses. In addition, biomarker testing could help patients save invaluable time, physical and emotional strain, and money by avoiding treatments that are likely to be ineffective or unnecessary.
“Who wouldn’t want to avoid chemotherapy – and its side effects – if it wouldn’t provide any benefit? I was able to bypass chemotherapy thanks to my biomarker testing results indicating that the recurrence of my cancer was low,” said Punita Khanna, ACS CAN volunteer and breast cancer survivor.
Biomarker testing is increasingly important for cancer care – and for the treatment of other diseases including arthritis, other autoimmune conditions and rare diseases, with research happening in many other areas including Alzheimer’s, other neurological conditions, cardiology and more.
Additionally, the percentage of clinical trials that involve biomarkers has grown significantly (from 15% in 2000 to 55% in 2018); and over one-third of the oncology drugs launched in the past five years require or recommend biomarker testing before use.
However, insurance coverage for biomarker testing is failing to keep pace with innovations and advancements in treatment.
“This means that countless Californians are missing out on biomarker testing which could match them to treatments that could help extend and improve their lives. Communities of color, individuals with limited income, rural residents and patients receiving care in non-academic medical centers are less likely to receive guideline-indicated biomarker testing. Senate Bill 496 will help address this injustice," said Autumn J. Ogden-Smith, California Legislative Director for ACS CAN.
“In California, we believe in taking care of each other and strive toward a more just and equitable society. Reducing health insurance coverage barriers to this essential testing could help avoid exacerbating existing health disparities in outcomes and bring the promise of precision medicine to more Californians, no matter their race, income, zip code or insurance type,” said Khanna.
SB 496 – authored by Senator Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) and sponsored by ACS CAN – is a reintroduced version of SB 912, which received unanimous, bipartisan support throughout the legislative process but was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom last year. ACS CAN is optimistic that California lawmakers will, once again, support this game-changing legislation and that the governor will take this new opportunity to ensure equitable access to biomarker testing and precision medicine.
To date, several states across the country have passed legislation expanding access to biomarker testing, including our neighboring state of Arizona and most recently New Mexico.