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California Governor Signs Cancer Care Equity Act Into Law

NEW YORK – California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Wednesday the California Cancer Care Equity Act (SB 987), which will expand access to advanced cancer care for Medi-Cal beneficiaries with complex cancers.

The bill requires that a Medi-Cal managed care plan make "a good faith effort" to contract with at least one National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, a site affiliated with the NCI community oncology research program, or a qualifying academic cancer center, and allow patients with complex cancer diagnoses to request a referral to those institutions for treatment.

NCI-CCCs typically have precision oncology expertise. SB 987 is intended to remove barriers to specialized cancer care including genomic testing, molecularly informed precision medicines, and clinical trials.

Medi-Cal serves about 13 million people, or one-third of California's population. Previously, if Medi-Cal patients wanted to see a doctor at an NCI-CCC, they would have to seek permission to go out of network, a process which is often lengthy, involving multiple appeals.

The bill defines a complex cancer diagnosis as one for which there is no standard FDA-approved treatment or a metastatic cancer for which therapy has failed. Other complex cancers specified in the bill include hematologic malignancies, advanced, relapsed solid tumors refractory to FDA-approved treatments, and advanced rare solid tumors lacking effective standard treatments as complex cancers. 

"I am pleased that California will make access to leading-edge cancer treatments available for Medi-Cal patients a reality," the bill's author, Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-25th district), said in a statement. "While there's more we need to fix in our current delivery system to get the latest innovations to patients equitably or quickly, this is a huge win for patients that will lay the groundwork for additional reforms in the future."