UPDATE: Sen. Fitzgerald intentionally blocks vote on bill that b - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Sen. Fitzgerald intentionally blocks vote on bill that benefits cancer patients

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says he used a procedural move to purposely block a vote on a bill that would require insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients, because he believed it would pass without the full support of his GOP caucus.

SB 300 would require insurance providers to cover the costs of oral chemotherapy drugs at the same level they currently cover traditional intravenous chemotherapy. 

With time quickly running out in this legislative session, Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) planned to make a motion Wednesday to pull the bill out of committee for a vote on the Senate floor. 

"And then found out that its scheduled for a public hearing, so that's why it wasn't possible to make a pulling motion from committee," said Sen. Erpenbach.

"Yeah, its a procedural move to make sure that there isn't a pulling motion on the floor by the Democrats," said Sen. Fitzgerald, who chairs the Senate Committee on Organization.

That committee purposely scheduled a second public hearing on SB 300 for 1:00 p.m. Wednesday.  Sen. Fitzgerald knew Senate rules would prevent Democrats from bringing the bill to the floor on the same day a public hearing was scheduled for it.

"If it did get to the floor for a vote it would pass overwhelmingly with a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans," said Sen. Erpenbach.

Sen. Fitzgerald agrees.

"I think it would.  Yeah, I think it would pass in the Senate," said Sen. Fitzgerald.

So why did he stop it?

"Its a majority of the body, but its not a majority of the people that make up the Republican caucus," said Sen. Fitzgerald.

In other words, even though the bill has six Senate Republican co-sponsors, that isn't enough for Fitzgerald.

"You know that's certainly a consideration and anytime you make a decision on whether or not you're going to move a piece of legislation is, how do the members of your own caucus feel about it?," said Sen. Fitzgerald.

Even the bill's lead author is a Republican, but her hands are tied.

"I just would like to take oral chemo for a vote, but you know, that's not up to me right now," said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

The oral chemotherapy bill has strong support from cancer patients and the medical community, but strong opposition from the health insurance industry.  Lobbyists for the industry have testified that the price of oral chemotherapy is so much higher than intravenous chemotherapy that it is cost prohibitive.

Sen. Fitzgerald says lobbyists played no role in his decision to block the measure from coming to the floor Wednesday.

But Sen. Erpenbach says he isn't giving up on the bill.

"Right now the insurance industry is a little stronger on this issue, but you got to hold out hope that in the end that those who really want this and those who really need it will win out," said Sen. Erpenbach.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says he used a procedural move to purposely block a vote on a bill that would require insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients, because he believed it would pass without the full support of his GOP caucus.

On Tuesday, Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) told 27 News he wanted to make a motion on the Senate floor to pull SB 300 up for a vote.  But the Senate Committee on Organization, chaired by Sen. Fitzgerald, scheduled a second public hearing on the bill for 1:00 p.m. Wednesday.  Due to Senate rules, that scheduled public hearing prohibited the bill from being pulled to the Senate floor for a vote Wednesday morning.

This is at least the second straight session in which a bipartisan group of state senators and representatives have tried to pass oral chemotherapy legislation, but it has yet to come up for a vote.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) authored the bill, but tried to escape a following pack of reporters after Wednesday's floor session, saying only: "I'd love to see oral chemo come up for a vote but it's not up to me."

Sen. Erpenbach said he hoped and believed Sen. Fitzgerald would not prevent SB 300 from coming up for a vote before the close of this session in April.

Cancer patients and medical professionals have voiced strong support for the bill, saying oral chemotherapy is far more convenient and less invasive than traditional intravenous chemotherapy.  But health insurance companies have lobbied against it, saying oral chemotherapy is cost prohibitive compared to the traditional kind.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have more on this story on 27 News at 6.



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