Bill inspired by Jimmy Carter’s cancer treatment passes in Georgia

More cancer patients in Georgia would be able to receive the same treatment that former President Jimmy Carter says eliminated signs of his disease under a bill given final passage Monday by the state Senate.

House Bill 965 — dubbed the Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Access Act — now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature to become law.

The bill aims to prevent insurance companies from limiting coverage of drugs for Stage 4 cancer patients. Its sponsor, state Rep. Mike Cheokas, R-Americus, counts Carter as a constituent and has said the former president’s cancer battle inspired him to try to help others get access to the same drugs that helped Carter.

Carter, 91, announced in August that doctors found four small melanoma lesions on his brain, and that he would undergo treatment at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University using the drug pembrolizumab as well as radiation therapy. In early December, Carter announced that tests showed no sign of the cancer in his body.

The bill says any insurance company that offers health care plans in Georgia cannot force patients to first fail to respond to other treatments before trying more advanced treatment programs such as those that helped Carter. The bill would only apply to health plans that cover the treatment of advanced, metastatic cancer, which typically involves Stage 4 patients in which cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

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The state House unanimously passed the bill last month. The Senate vote was 53-1, with state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, the lone no.

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