Georgia state lawmakers OK new insurance rules for cancer drugs

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia’s lawmakers on Monday approved legislation that will allow more of the state’s residents with advanced cancer to receive drugs such as the one used to treat former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Carter, 91, announced last summer he was undergoing treatment for melanoma that had spread from his liver to his brain. The former Democratic president, known for his unassuming style, said in December that he was cancer-free but would continue to receive an immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumab, that helps the body’s immune system target cancer cells.

Under the new Georgia legislation, insurance companies would no longer be allowed to require patients to first try conventional cancer treatments before being prescribed immunotherapy drugs.

“Every Georgian with health insurance that covers cancer should have the same access to cancer drugs as President Carter,” the legislation states. The title of the bill is the Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Act.

The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Mike Cheokas, a Republican, represents Carter’s hometown of Plains and received permission from the former president’s office before attaching his name to the bill, the legislator said on Monday. The former president is a long-time family friend, Cheokas added.

The legislator said he received an email from an advanced cancer patient who, like Carter, was being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta but was not allowed by her insurance company to receive the same drugs Carter received.

Instead, she was required to first take conventional treatment, the legislator said.

“She had to take a certain protocol and fail that before taking the more effective drugs,” Cheokas said. “This bill will save lives. It cuts through the red tape.”

The bill now heads to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal for his signature. It was not clear how Deal, a Republican, will act on the legislation. A representative for his office could not be immediately reached on Monday.

Earlier this month, Carter said he will no longer need treatment but will continue to be observed by doctors.

A spokeswoman for Carter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill.

Reporting by David Beasley in Atlanta; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Alan Crosby