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Bills to require private health insurance plans to cover costs of oral chemotherapy and the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse were passed today by the Assembly, largely along party lines.

The lower house also approved Assembly Bill 369, which would bar health plans from requiring a patient to try more than two lower-priced medications before providing access to the product prescribed by the patient's physician.

AB 369 passed, 46-19, with most Democrats but no Republicans supporting it.

Democratic Assemblyman Jim Beall of San Jose crafted the bill covering mental health and substance abuse treatment, Assembly Bill 154. It passed the lower house, 47-18, with no GOP votes.

Current law only requires private insurers to cover severe mental illness, while AB 154 targets other types of disorders, including depression and substance abuse but not bereavement or antisocial behavior.

Services covered under AB 154 include outpatient, inpatient and partial hospital services, as well as prescription drugs if the plan's contract already includes coverage for medications.

The oral chemotherapy bill, Assembly Bill 1000, was pushed by Assemblyman Henry Perea, a Fresno Democrat who said he conceived of the idea during his mother's treatment for lung cancer.

AB 1000 passed, 52-17, with support from only three Republicans: Paul Cook of Yucca Valley, Kevin Jeffries of Lake Elsinore, and Kristin Olsen of Modesto.

Health plans typically cover the price of a patient's intravenous chemotherapy, charging only a minor office co-payment. By contrast, most insurers cover only a portion of oral chemotherapy costs, leaving patients with bills that can total hundreds of dollars per month, Perea said.

AB 1000 would not require insurers to provide coverage for prescription drugs, but those that do would be required to bankroll much of the costs of oral chemotherapy as they do now for intravenous chemotherapy.

All three bills now go to the Senate.


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