New law will reimburse cancer patients for their participation in trials

Governor Brian Kemp signed SB223 into law Tuesday.
Published: May. 2, 2023 at 5:57 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Across the country, only three percent of cancer patients who can participate in clinical trials actually do so. The costs associated with simply showing up are often insurmountable.

“The travel cost of doing that, childcare while you’re at these, lodging sometimes, it can be many different expenses,” said Lynn Durham with the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education. “People who don’t have discretionary funds to be able to do that many times can’t participate in clinical trials because they don’t have the funding.”

Governor Brian Kemp signed SB223 into law Tuesday. The legislation now paves the way for trial sponsors, like hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and non-profits, to reimburse cancer patients for the costs they incur by participating in trials.

“Trials are absolutely pivotal, you have to have clinical trials to find the new medications and the new treatment options,” said Durham. “So this allows them to get reimbursed for any of those expenses so they can participate in a clinical trial that could save their life.”

Prior to Tuesday, the law was relatively gray on providing payment for participation. Georgia is now the seventh state to clarify the trial sponsor’s ability to provide reimbursement, and Erin Miller, co-founder of Lazarex Cancer Foundation, says four more states could implement similar laws by the year’s end.

Miller lost her husband to pancreatic cancer 20 years ago, but not before his participation in a clinical trial doubled his life expectancy. It was well worth it, but expensive to say the least.

“What we realized is that it was going to break us to travel back and forth to get to his trial, we were going to have to go and stay for three weeks at a time,” said Miller. “This gives [patients] a chance for renewed hope and a chance at life and it’s beautiful.”

The new law will also increase equity when it comes to cancer trials. Rural patients incur bigger travel costs. Black women are more likely than any other group to suffer from breast cancer and the same is true for Black men of prostate cancer.

“Right now, nationwide, only five percent of African Americans are participating in clinical trials,” said Durham. “In Georgia we have large rural populations. Many times they cannot get to where the trials are offered, so it really hurts our rural population too.”

A few years back, Eugene Holloway cut his hand and couldn’t stop the bleeding. He was in the middle of trucking school to begin a career as a driver and had a young daughter when doctors diagnosed him with aplastic anemia, a rare cancer of the blood.

Immediately, Holloway signed up for participation in a trial but suffered the associated costs.

“It was real rough, and financially it was very hard on me because at first I was in between jobs when I got sick so I was unable to afford a lot of the medications,” he said. “You’ve got to dig deep into your pocket and try to get that medication, because you need it.”

Holloway sought help from family and friends to get to and from his trials, but often had to take MARTA to get to appointments.

“There’s a lot of sacrifice, not just with yourself but with your caregivers,” he said. “They have to give in to the program so you’re scrambling. You’re scrambling for transportation, you’re scrambling for money, food, whatever the case may be.”

“So you try to figure out, what can I do with or without?” he continued. “But you need the medicines, you need those funds, you need that assistance. Otherwise, somebody like me, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Holloway now encourages other trial participants to reach out to him for advice and even a ride if they need one – he’s since become a registered transporter with the bone marrow transplant clinic where his trial was conducted.

Holloway, Miller and the families of other patients are hopeful this opportunity will soon be available to other would-be trial participants in other states.

“It’s about hope and it’s about life,” said Miller, “and if you can’t get there, you can’t do it.”