Rep. Cooksey advocates insurance coverage for proton therapies

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, has filed a bill in the Oklahoma House she says will protect Oklahoma cancer patients from insurance coverage denial for needed care ordered by physicians. Cooksey unveiled the measure at a state Capitol press conference last week.

“Receiving a cancer diagnosis for you or your child can be devastating news, and it’s not right that so many Oklahomans who are insured still have to deal with the additional hardship of fighting an insurance company to make sure they get the care they need,” said Rep. Cooksey. “When passed, this bill will defend men, women and children in our state against coverage denial for the treatment that their doctor recommends for their specific diagnosis.”

In a release, Rep. Cooksey said her bill would reduce hardship and risk for cancer patients currently facing denials by insurance companies that hold proton therapy to a higher standard than traditional radiation therapy. Proton therapy is only offered by 14 treatment centers in the nation. One of those centers is located in Oklahoma City at ProCure Proton Therapy Center, and another proton therapy center is in development at The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Joining Rep. Cooksey at a January 22 state Capitol press conference were Speaker Pro Temp Lee Denney, R-Cushing, a key supporter of the measure, and patient Sally Story, who describes a side effect (a secondary tumor) when she underwent traditional radiation therapy. Story said she is now undergoing proton therapy.

Proton therapy is an alternative to traditional radiation therapy that, advocates say, more precisely targets tumors and spares the surrounding healthy tissue from unnecessary radiation exposure. 

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1988, proton therapy is equally as effective in destroying tumors as traditional x-ray treatment, its advocates (including many physicians) contend. They also believe the precision means fewer short and long-term side effects for patients.

In a recent poll, 91 percent of Oklahoma voters said they believe Oklahoma doctors should make the decisions on medical treatments regarding their Oklahoma patients.

“I make it a priority to review all the available treatment options to ensure I recommend the best treatment plan specific to each patient’s unique case,” said Dr. Les Yonemoto, a radiation oncologist with more than 20 years of experience. “When an insurance company limits coverage options for my patients, I am limited in the care I can provide, and it’s not right when I can’t help them fight their cancer in the best way possible.”

Rep. Denney’s measure will go to committee for a possible hearing in the Oklahoma House early in the legislative session, which begins on February 2.

NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report. Photographs were provided by Meredith Tucker.