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Koehler discusses recent generic price drug gouging, proton beam therapy insurance bills, and 2024 legislative priorities

State Sen. Dave Koehler
Tim Alexander
State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria.

Illinois State Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, discussed two health-related laws he sponsored that took effect Jan. 1 while offering a glimpse at 2024 state legislative priorities during an interview with WCBU.

One Koehler-sponsored law, the Illinois Generic Drug Pricing Fairness Act (House Bill 3957), will prevent drug manufacturers from spiking the cost of generic medicine. Another initiative led by the Peoria Democrat will apply equal and fair insurance coverage for cancer patients seeking treatment via proton beam therapy, which will soon be offered at OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute in Peoria. Upon its opening, the Institute will be the second medical center in Illinois capable of delivering the therapy.

“The proton therapy process is a big deal not only for (OSF) and the Peoria area, but really for the Midwest. Peoria will become a destination point for people seeking this kind of treatment,” said Koehler, who was elected to the Illinois Senate in 2006, promoted to majority caucus ship in 2018 and assistant majority leader in 2019.

“We wanted to make sure that we required health insurance to cover [proton beam therapy]. This is a much more efficient way of dealing with cancer where you can really zoom in on it and not affect any of the tissues around it. We wanted to make sure it was covered by managed care organizations, it’s covered by insurance plans and that we can really encourage utilization of this.”

Proton beam therapy is described as a “modern cancer radiation therapy tool that uses focused beams to identify the exact depth and location of cancerous cells in the body in order to target the tumor rather than the surrounding healthy tissue.” Proton therapy has shown promise in treating several kinds of cancer. Studies have suggested that proton therapy may cause fewer side effects than traditional radiation, since doctors can better control where the proton beams deliver their energy, notes the Mayo Clinic.

Koehler’s House Bill 2899 will prohibit insurers from applying a higher standard of coverage for proton beam therapy than they would for other forms of treatment. The OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute in Peoria is currently constructing a $250 million facility that will heavily focus on proton beam therapy. It is scheduled to open in late February.

Another Koehler-led bill that would prevent drug companies from overcharging for generic medications within Illinois also took effect Jan. 1.

“These are drugs that people need and use a lot. What we’ve said to our Health and Family Services Department in Illinois is that anytime they notice bills coming in for drugs [that] are in high demand and maybe low supply that the price goes way up, they have to now notify the attorney general that there is potential price gouging going on,” he said.

Notification of the state attorney general’s office of potential price gouging by the state agency that handles Medicaid cases would trigger authorization to investigate, charge and prosecute companies for the crime.

“These [bills] are important for all families and individuals who live in this area because, one, OSF with their proton beam therapy is really a game changer in terms of cancer treatment, and [two] protecting people in terms on not pricing them out of essential drugs they need just o maintain their own health,” said Koehler.

In addition to working on a new state budget, Koehler will be seeking support for his Clean Transportation Standard legislation. Originally introduced in February 2023, the bill would create rules establishing a clean transportation standard to reduce carbon intensity from the on-road transportation sector by 20% before 2038.

“The bill could establish Illinois as the first Midwestern state to adopt what we’re calling a Clean Transportation Standard. This is for all kinds of fuels that are used in transportation in all kinds of industries and settings,” said Koehler. “What it does is it really puts agriculture in terms of growing feedstock for sustainable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel at the forefront of this.”

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.