Tennessee legislator leads charge to change laws for coverage

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Tennessee Senator Doug Overbey first learned about proton therapy several years ago when a church member had to travel out of state to receive the cancer treatment—and then mortgage her house to pay for it.

Today, Tennesseans can receive proton therapy closer to home, thanks to the Provision Center for Proton Therapy in Knoxville. But, unfortunately, some are still faced with paying for it themselves or going without.

For the past two years, Overbey has been fighting this inequity in the Tennessee General Assembly, and he’s not stopping now.

In a television interview with WATE “On Your Side” reporter Halley Holloway, Overbey pledged to continue fighting for insurance coverage that often eludes patients between ages 18 and 65 who are diagnosed with cancer. The interview was posted on the news station’s website along with a story about Tennessee breast cancer patient Lou Lovingood, whose Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance carrier had denied her claim for proton therapy treatment three times. Lovingood received treatment at Provision, where she was the center’s 500th patient.

Proton therapy has been used for treatment of cancer since the 1950s and approved for coverage by Medicare as well as by most insurers for pediatric cases since the early 1990s, when the modality became available at mainstream healthcare facilities. Overbey has supported two bills in the state legislature that would pave the way for private insurance to cover proton therapy for everyone—measures strongly opposed by insurance companies, particularly Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.

The company’s approach “is not reflective of good health policy” especially because the most recent bill simply aimed to establish parity between proton therapy and other cancer treatments, stipulating insurance had to pay no more for proton therapy than the conventional radiation alternative, Overbey said.

“We’re simply saying, allow your patients (in consultation with their doctors) to pick the modality of treatment that’s most effective for them,” said Overbey. “The legislation we offered this year … would have added no cost.”

Discussions are ongoing about introduction of a new bill providing for insurance coverage of proton therapy in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.

“I would like to continue to fight this fight,” Overbey said. “I think it’s good health policy, I think it’s appropriate health policy. I think there’s also an economic development side to this, because we have Provision here in our own back yard. So I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to make Provision successful.”

To join the cause for proton therapy in Tennessee, visit the Tennessee Cancer Patient Coalition website. We ask that you contact your legislator and join our Facebook community to share our message with your friends and family. We will provide more information and updates as the 2016 legislative session nears.