NASHVILLE — It's a new year with a new governor and in the Tennessee Senate on Thursday, there was renewed hope for a better outcome on a bill vetoed last year by then-Gov. Bill Haslam.
Senators voted 27-1 for the bill that would allow employees on the state's health plan to use an alternative treatment for cancer known as "hypofractionated proton therapy" under certain conditions.
"This is something dear to my heart because my father died of prostate cancer back in 1988," said Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, whose father, U.S. Rep. John Duncan Sr., was 69 when he died. "This is very important to me."
Massey said it would allow doctors and patients to decide whether to use proton therapy or more traditional radiation to treat tumors like those caused by prostate cancer.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy using high-energy beams to treat tumors. Radiation therapy using X-rays has long been used to treat cancers and noncancerous (benign) tumors. Using positively charged particles called protons, proton therapy "has shown promise in treating several kinds of cancer," according to Mayo.
Studies have also "suggested that proton therapy may cause fewer side effects than traditional radiation, since doctors can better control where the proton beams deposit their energy," Mayo said. But the hospital also notes few studies "have directly compared proton therapy radiation and X-ray radiation, so it's not clear whether proton therapy is more effective in prolonging lives."
In vetoing the proton therapy bill last year, Haslam said it "circumvents the established process for determining state employee insurance program coverage based on medical evidence and effectiveness."
Moreover, Haslam said, "the state plan currently covers many forms of radiation treatment, and the provider advocating the bill rejected a medically appropriate plan for expanded coverage to instead pursue a political mandate."
The sponsor of the bill, then-Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, sought unsuccessfully to rally colleagues to hold a veto override session and repass the bill. Tennessee has a fairly easy override provision in that it only takes the same simple majority originally passing a bill to overcome a veto.
Green, a physician, was elected last year to Congress.
According to a fiscal note on this year's bill, Senate Bill 195, the Proton Therapy Access Act requires the group insurance program to cover physician-prescribed hypofractionated proton therapy, provided that the overall cost is the same as would be paid for intensity-modulated radiation therapy. IRMT is an advanced type of radiation therapy used to treat cancer and noncancerous tumors.
The House is scheduled to take up the bill next week.
In other legislation action on Thursday:
* An estimated 21,528 Tennessee professional firefighters and law enforcement officers would see an increase in their salary supplement for completing annual in-service training under a bill heading to Gov. Bill Lee's desk.
The bill, which previously passed the Senate unanimously, was approved by the House in a 96-0 vote on Thursday.
Lee's administration brought the bill, which would boost the current $600 supplement by $200 to $800 for completing at least 40 hours of training.
It's projected to cost the state $4.3 million in Fiscal Year 2020 and subsequent years, although the figure could rise if there are increases in personnel.
A firefighter must complete 40 hours of training to receive the pay supplement. A police officer must complete eight months of full-time service as a law enforcement officer and at least 40 hours of in-service training to be eligible.
According to a fiscal note on the bill, Tennessee has 6,848 professional firefighters and 14,680 law enforcement officers that would be eligible for the cash salary supplement.
The measure is SB793/HB937.
* The House voted 98-0 for a Lee administration bill that transfers the state's Consumer Affairs Division from the Department of Commerce and Insurance to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery.
It's now headed to the Senate.
Slatery and the administration agreed that the attorney general's office, which has a Division of Consumer Affairs and handles litigation, was a more appropriate place to house the entity that fields complaints from Tennessee consumers.
The state's division has 12 staffers who will be transferred.
But there are apparently some changes. A bill amendment authorizes a court to order consumers and businesses involved in a complaint to engage in pre-trial mediation in the course of any action brought in the name of the state pursuant to the Consumer Protection Act.
It also authorizes the Division of Consumer Affairs in the office of the attorney general to facilitate communication between a complainant and person identified in a complaint in an effort to encourage "mutually agreeable resolutions."
The measure is HB948/SB804.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.