Thursday, April 5, 2012

Nebraska Legislature passes bills dealing with chemotherapy, alcopops, school testing

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(LJS file)
  • Legislature inside Capitol
  • Jeremy Nordquist
Nebraska lawmakers gave 42-0 final approval Monday to a bill (LB882) under which oral chemotherapy will be treated the same as intravenous cancer treatments for insurance purposes. 
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, said the lack of parity in coverage between intravenous and oral chemotherapy medications was a growing problem, with some cancer treatments costing $5,000 to $10,000 a month.
He said his bill would ensure that patients and doctors could make decisions about the course of treatment based on what would provide the best care, not what insurance companies deemed the most cost-effective.
Research shows that when confronted with the reality of high out-of-pocket expenses, cancer patients forgo expensive therapies and often discontinue treatments, in part because they do not want to saddle their families with unmanageable debt, Nordquist said.
Because oncologists know how expensive oral medications can be, he said, they often do not prescribe them -- even when they think that would be the better option.
The actuarial and benefits consulting firm Milliman Inc. did a study in 2010 that estimated  requiring similar coverage for oral chemotherapy would cost less than $6 a year per person in most insurance plans. The study was paid for by GlaxoSmithKline, which makes and is developing oral chemotherapy drugs.
In other action Monday, lawmakers:
* Gave 37-6 final approval to a bill that would gut a recent Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that said so-called alcopops must be taxed as hard liquor instead of like beer. The high court had ruled that flavored malt drinks -- such as Mike's Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice -- should be taxed the same as hard liquor. Beer is taxed at 31 cents a gallon, spirits at $3.75 a gallon.
The bill (LB824) was introduced by Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber in anticipation of the high court's ruling. Lancaster County District Judge John Colborn ruled earlier that under state law, the drinks should be considered spirits, not beer, because they contain distilled alcohol. The state appealed that ruling to the high court.
Colborn's ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by a mother and three groups that combat underage drinking. They say alcopops are marketed toward young people, and an increase in price -- a likely result of a tax change -- would act as a deterrent.
* Voted 46-0 to give final approval to a bill (LB870) to add other measures of accountability to test scores in judging schools.
The bill will establish an accountability system to measure the performance of individual public schools and school districts beginning with the 2012-13 school year. It will combine multiple measures, including graduation rates, student growth and student improvement on statewide assessments.
It was sponsored by Sen Greg Adams of York, chairman of the Education Committee. Adams said it broadened the picture of schools, because there was more to a school, or a school district, than test scores. Some Nebraska schools -- mostly because of demographics -- may never show the kind of proficiency on reading, math and writing tests that is expected of them. But they should get credit for improvement.
* Gave 44-0 final approval to a bill (LB933) meant to build on a truancy law passed in 2010. Families have complained to senators and anyone who would listen that they have been hurt by the law, which requires that more than 20 absences in a school year -- excused or unexcused -- be reported to the county attorney, who then investigates and decides whether to take action.
The bill passed Monday would allow schools to decide whether to report excused absences. If there is even one unexcused absence among the 20, the report would be required.
* Voted 46-0 to pass a bill (LB799) establishing that negligent child abuse resulting in the death of a child and negligent child abuse that results in serious bodily injury are felonies. Previously, regardless of the injuries caused to the child, negligent child abuse was a misdemeanor. The bill was by Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue.
Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or

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