SANTA FE, NEW MEX. – February 22, 2024 – State Representative Joy Garratt was honored with the ‘Legislative Champion Award’ by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) during a luncheon, Thursday. This award is the highest honor given by the organization. Garratt was recognized for her leading role in expanding access to biomarker testing in New Mexico. She served as a lead sponsor for HB 73 during the 2023 legislative session.
Lawmakers Rally with Patient Advocates to Improve Access to Biomarker Testing, Highlight Personal Connections to Disease
Sen. Robinson & Boscola, Rep. Mullins & Republican Leader Cutler share how family history and personal losses motivated them to sponsor biomarker testing legislation
HARRISBURG, PA – November 14, 2023 – Earlier today, the legislative sponsors of Senate Bill 954 and House Bill 1754 joined patient advocates, cancer survivors and medical leaders at the state Capitol and urged their colleagues in the House and Senate to support legislation improving Pennsylvanians’ access to biomarker testing.
Biomarker testing has become a game-changing part of patient care given its role in opening the door to targeted treatments that can lead to improved survivorship and quality of life. Senate Bill 954 and House Bill 1754 represent a bipartisan proposal to ensure comprehensive biomarker testing is covered by all state-regulated health plans, including Medicaid, when medically appropriate.
“I, like too many, have a family history of cancer. My father was diagnosed at a relatively young age which led me to discover that I have the BRCA-2 gene mutation and would have a harder time fighting cancer if I were to be diagnosed. Because I was screened, tested and received my baseline PSAs in my thirties, I can stay on top of my health,” said Senator Devlin Robinson, co-prime sponsor of Senate Bill 954. “If someday I do get the dreadful news of cancer, I will have targeted and precise treatment to fight it to the best of my body’s ability. I want this chance for every Pennsylvanian.”
Sen. Robinson is working alongside Senator Lisa Boscola to secure their colleagues’ support for Senate Bill 954. In a statement, Sen. Boscola said, “I am proud to serve as the co-prime sponsor of Senate Bill 954 because it would expand access to life-saving technology and lead to better patient outcomes. Biomarker testing has been nothing short of a miracle for families facing a diagnosis of cancer or other serious illness.” The statement continues, “Sadly, access to testing has been limited by an all-too-common barrier: cost. By requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of biomarker testing, this bill would open doors to precision medicine that otherwise would remain locked to thousands of ailing Pennsylvanians. Put another way: this bill would save lives.”
Despite the proven benefits, some insurers are failing to keep pace with innovations and advancements in biomarker testing and treatment. This results in some patients being forced to decide whether to pay out-of-pocket or go without the testing that may connect them with lifesaving treatment.
During the press conference today, Dr. Michael Hall, who is Chair of the Department of Clinical Genetics at Fox Chase Cancer Center, said, “Unfortunately, there have been times where I have had to forgo or delay this incredible asset in the treatment of my patients whose insurance does not cover it and who don’t have the financial means to cover the cost entirely out of pocket.” He continued, “Because I endeavor to give every one of my patients the best care, I find it detrimental to my work that biomarker testing is not universally available and affordable.”
Without biomarker testing, Mechanicsburg’s Lisa Selan might not have, two years after being diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer, reached remission.
“I believe that biomarker testing is critical to the physical, mental and financial health of cancer patients. It is a major part of why I am alive today, maintaining hope for the future and financial stability. I was fortunate that I did not have to choose between the best quality care and strapping medical debt. No Pennsylvanian who is suffering from an illness, such as cancer, and whose treatment could be informed my biomarker testing should have to make such a choice,” said Selan during this afternoon’s rally.
Senate Bill 954 and House Bill 1754 would not just benefit cancer patients. Given that biomarker testing is increasingly important in the treatment of other diseases, including, arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, rare diseases and preeclampsia, Senators Robinson and Boscola and Representative Mullins and Republican Leader Cutler worked to ensure that the legislation put forth will benefit the greatest number of Pennsylvanians battling illness.
Thirteen other states have already enacted comprehensive, disease-agnostic biomarker testing bills like the one the co-sponsors and advocates are calling on Pennsylvania lawmakers to sign.
Representative Kyle Mullins and Republican Leader Cryan Cutler were motivated to act as co-prime sponsors on the House said largely because of the disease-agnostic component. Republican Leader Cutler lost both of his parents to ALS and Rep. Mullins recently lost his father to ALS. Their press conference contributions followed that of the ALS Association, a representative from which was present to discuss how biomarker testing has the potential to enable great strides in ALS care.
In his remarks this afternoon, Rep. Mullins said, “Nobody is a stranger to sickness. Whether they’re aware of it or not, everyone knows and loves someone whose survivorship or quality of life could be enabled or improved by biomarker testing. The fact that biomarker testing will be able to benefit patients with such divergent diagnoses as that of my dad who had ALS and my aunt who had breast cancer, illustrates the scope of House Bill 1754’s potential positive impact in Pennsylvania.”
Republican Leader Cutler rounded out the press conference sharing about his parents’ health journeys, “They did not have access to biomarker testing when they were diagnosed nor had we made such amazing strides in research around biomarker testing and ALS; however, I can’t help but think of the comfort it could have provided them, the hope it might have instilled in me as their son.” He then went on to discuss how Senate Bill 954 and House Bill 1754 have the potential to reduce overall health care costs for insurers and patients alike.
When the press conference wrapped, patient advocates from across the Commonwealth dispersed to connect with their lawmakers on the benefits of biomarker testing, urging that they support Senate Bill 954 and House Bill 1754.
Members of the media are invited to interview volunteers and ACS CAN staff about the importance of expanding equitable access to biomarker testing in Pennsylvania. For more information on precision medicine, cancer biomarkers, current barriers to biomarker testing and ACS CAN’s policy recommendations, visit: www.fightcancer.org/biomarkers.
About ACS CAN
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) advocates for evidence-based public policies to reduce the cancer burden for everyone. As the American Cancer Society’s nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, ACS CAN is making cancer a top priority for public officials and candidates at the federal, state, and local levels. By engaging advocates across the country to make their voices heard, ACS CAN influences legislative and regulatory solutions that will end cancer as we know it.