Tiffany Williams

Tiffany Williams is a patient ambassador with the International Myeloma Foundation. She lives in North Charleston.

Like many people, I wear a lot of hats.

When I put on my cancer patient hat, I know how lucky I am to be living in a time where my disease can be managed.

When I put on my nurse hat, from which I retired after 27 years at the Medical University of South Carolina, I marvel at how the science and treatment options have evolved for patients.

And when I put on my cancer community support group leader hat, I know that what’s most important for patients is having access to all available cancer treatments.

For all of these hats that I wear — patient, health care provider and advocate — I am speaking out and asking South Carolina lawmakers to get on board with legislation to ensure fair and equitable access to all anti-cancer treatments.

I was diagnosed in 2013 with multiple myeloma and started treatment immediately with stem cell transplant surgery. When I was studying to become a nurse, I remember when stem cell transplants were new, a bit scary and risky. Today, they are much more common.

Likewise, I now take a daily oral medication to keep my cancer in check, something I will do for the rest of my life. Oral anti-cancer treatments are becoming more and more common as well, but because of outdated insurance company policies, some patients don’t have access to these life-saving medications. That has to change.

The Cancer Drug Parity Act of 2019 will do just that.

When passed, the legislation will ensure that insurance companies cover intravenous chemotherapy and oral chemotherapy in the same way, and with similar cost sharing for patients.

Currently, IV treatments are categorized as medical benefit, the oral treatments are part of a person’s prescription drug benefit. Because of the way prescription drug benefit programs work, the insurer has the ability to pass on costs to patients, which is done at an alarming rate.

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I have been fortunate with my insurance coverage, but within our own community, members of the support group I run have had major issues paying for their cancer treatment because their insurer does not.

How can we be in a time where treatments are available, but only if you happen to have the right insurance?

Many people I talk to thought they had good insurance until they were diagnosed. Suddenly, they were facing impossible-to-pay out-of-pocket costs for a treatment to save their lives. I see this happen on average to at least one or two people a month. That might not sound like a lot until you or a family member is one of those people. That’s the thought that keeps me up at night. With all we hear about the cost of health care, people still aren’t getting the treatments they need.

South Carolina is not one of the many states that have passed legislation within their borders to cover cancer treatments equally. Federal legislation is needed because plans can be regulated at the state or federal level.

I respectfully ask that our federal lawmakers sign on to support the Cancer Drug Parity Act, and I ask lawmakers here at home to join the 43 other states that have passed this type of legislation. For all cancer patients, no matter where they live or what type of insurance they have, we need to make this a priority.

Tiffany Williams is a patient ambassador with the International Myeloma Foundation. She lives in North Charleston.