Mark Pankuch, PhD, DABR, FAAPM
Director of Medical Physics
Northwestern Medicine – Central DuPage Hospital
On January 1, 2024, Illinois saw the enactment of Public Act 103-0325, a significant step forward in making proton therapy accessible to patients covered by state-sponsored insurance plans. This legislation, the result of a bipartisan effort, was introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives by Republican Norine K. Hammond and subsequently championed in the Senate by Democrat David Koehler. The bill’s unanimous passage is a testament to the widespread recognition of proton therapy’s value within the state.
Legislative success often hinges on a clear understanding of the proposed changes. Representative Hammond’s strategic planning and transparency were crucial to the bill’s passage. Her advocacy began when a constituent faced insurance denial for proton therapy, despite medical recommendation. To respond effectively, Representative Hammond engaged with the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center to gain a deeper insight into proton therapy.
Through her immersive experience at the center, she gained a nuanced understanding of proton therapy’s distinct advantages over conventional X-ray (photon) radiation, particularly its ability to minimize damage to healthy tissues. She observed firsthand the sophisticated technology and substantial investment that proton therapy entails, as well as the meticulous decision-making process of the healthcare team in recommending this treatment.
Armed with this knowledge, Representative Hammond returned to Springfield, drafting a bill informed by insights from the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center and modeled after analogous legislation from other states. Her bipartisan outreach, coupled with Northwestern Medicine’s educational initiatives, played a pivotal role in fostering a comprehensive understanding of proton therapy’s clinical applications.The Illinois Act stipulates two clear mandates:
- Insurance coverage for cancer treatment must not impose stricter clinical evidence standards for proton beam therapy than for other radiation therapies.
- Radiation oncology coverage by insurers must include medically necessary proton beam therapy for cancer treatment.
While succinct, these provisions are crafted to safeguard patients, ensuring they receive the best possible care as recommended by their healthcare providers. The unanimous bipartisan support for this law serves as an inspiring precedent, encouraging continued advocacy for broader access to proton therapy at both federal and state levels.
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