By Ben Wynd
SACRAMENTO, CA – State Senate Bill 912 is a critical health measure in play here that increases biomarker testing coverage by insurance plans and cancer stages – the CA Senate Health Committee voted to send SB 912 onward to the Senate Appropriations committee April 20 on a bipartisan and unanimous vote.
Biomarkers are aspects within cancer cells that appear with a detectable difference when used with biomarker technology. For cancer, biomarkers are primarily used to select the safest and best treatment plan.
The measure supporters claim people unable to get biomarkers are often lower income and have insurance plans that cover far fewer services and costs, making SB 912 a health bill as well as a social equity bill.
Autumn J. Ogden-Smith, the California State legislation director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), explained that passing bills of a very similar nature are an ACS CAN national priority.
She said her group has provided legislators a “tool box” for language in all states. ACS CAN resources have allowed ease in changes from state to state and for amendments to fit state needs to be implemented.
But she warns, “If you don’t know the process, a bill can die on technicalities,” making the tool box of utmost help.”
Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) introduced the bill into the legislature and has been a large force behind it.
Ogden-Smith noted how directors are needed in regions due to unique processes requiring unique knowledge. Health care coverage alterations are largely done at state level, so she encourages being involved in local issues.
But she also said she hoped President Biden will encourage greater biomarker testing, even though states will continue to deal with this issue because of federal gridlock.
She argues that California specifically needs the bill to be written with explicit mention of Medi-Cal. Expansion of biomarker testing because the expansive insurance provider was critical in developing California’s bill.
Noting California is often a trailblazer in politics, culture, and trends, Ogden-Smith hopes the state’s final product emerges as “model legislation” for other states to follow suit.
However, Illinois passed equivalent legislation before California.
“It’s time for California to catch up,” she said because she believes, with passage, lives can be changed or even saved. She reiterated the significance of two Republicans voting for the bill in committee, asserting that there’s a widespread “desire to get appropriate treatment, without additional costs” and expand health care’s service coverage.
Expansion of biomarker coverage may even prevent unnecessary chemotherapy, the bill’s proponents claim. And they say oftentimes other treatments would have been prescribed if a biomarker test had been utilized to determine what the best plan of action would be.
They suggest chemotherapy’s harmful side effects and pain may be prevented to an even greater degree if the bill becomes law.
In terms of the future, the biggest issue is coming to an agreement with health plans and insurers.
Ogden-Smith explains, “They have their own vision of how health care should be managed,” and that “insurers only want to spend what needs to be spent.”
Legislatively, the bill still needs to make it past the Appropriations committee, the State Senate, and State Assembly, and be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. There’s different chairs for each committee in the two chambers, which further complicates the bill.
But Ogden-Smith is positive, noting, “ It’s not a difficult bill [to pass] on the surface, but difficult due to nuances.”