Cancer patients in Oklahoma want more power to decide their course of treatment rather than insurance companies choosing for them. And lawmakers will consider a bill on it when they meet in February.
Proton radiation therapy is a specialized form of radiation that pinpoints the treatment areas and spares the good cells around those areas. However, many cancer patients said their insurance companies would not cover the treatment or they had to fight for months to get it covered.
“Nobody ever needs to hear the words, ‘You have cancer.' But when you do, you've got to learn to fight and I didn't know you had to fight the insurance company to try and win that battle as well,” said Murray.
Murray is a high school football referee who likens insurance companies to what he does.
“If the insurance companies have the same rule book and they just apply common sense, it's going to be for the benefit of the patient,” Murray explained.
Murray is supporting House Bill 1515, which would require insurance companies to stop holding proton radiation therapy to a higher standard than traditional X-ray radiation because it can make it harder to get the treatment covered.
The Edmond resident was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and he was denied coverage at Procure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City. He said his insurance company told him he would have to go to Houston instead for the very same treatment.
“That in itself is more expensive when I have that option 15 minutes from my house,” Murray told News 9.
Murray said he finally got approved for proton therapy treatment in OKC six months after his diagnosis. He was able to keep working during that time rather than take time off like he would have had to do to go to Houston for eight weeks of treatment.
Sally Strong underwent traditional radiation therapy 20 years ago and her doctors said it caused a new tumor today. Now, Strong is getting proton therapy, which is much less damaging to the body, but she said she also had to fight to get it covered.
Several representatives have authored a bill that would leave treatment options up to patients and doctors.
“Whatever they deem necessary, an insurance company certainly shouldn't have the last say and take that away from our patients,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Lee Denney, (R)-Cushing.
In Murray's words, it would simply create a level playing field.
Sooner Poll conducted a study of Oklahoma voters and found 91% believe that doctors should make the decisions on medical treatments involving their patients.
The legislative session begins February 2.