September 7, 2022

By Autumn Ogden-Smith & Mike Guerra


They’re the words no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.”

Yet, the fear and anguish created by once devastating diagnoses have been greatly reduced through the medical innovation of biomarker testing – a healthcare gamechanger that gives patients access to precision medicine by identifying more effective treatment options, leading to improved survival and quality of life.

As Gov. Newsom deliberates thousands of bills coming his way, we urge him to sign Senate Bill 912 (Limon), which advances his vision of creating a more equitable healthcare system for all Californians by requiring more insurance plans—including Medi-Cal—to cover biomarker testing when medically necessary.

By approving SB 912, California lawmakers rightfully acknowledged the difficult realities of cancer treatment. ​​ Chemotherapy and drug regimens can be physically and emotionally devastating to patients and are too often standardized approaches instead of the most effective courses of treatment. Cancer varies from person to person. Biomarkers provide care teams the ability to determine the precise treatment solution designed to address his or her specific cancer. Biomarker testing allows doctors to determine in advance what treatments will work best, allowing patients to directly benefit from the promise of precision medicine while also lowering overall healthcare costs.

For many Californians, their healthcare coverage creates barriers to finding the most effective treatment and care. Lack of access to appropriate biomarker testing – which is not currently covered by all health plans, even when supported by medical and scientific evidence – prevents patients and physicians from making fully informed treatment decisions. With his signature, Gov. Newsom can change that.

Insurers erroneously argue that biomarker testing increases costs and subjects patients to lower levels of care. However, timely access to appropriate biomarker testing can help achieve better health outcomes, improve quality of life, and reduce costs by connecting patients to the most effective treatment for their cancer. Sadly, and at the expense of cancer patients, insurers fail to acknowledge the potential cost savings or benefits for patients’ quality of life and instead want a “one size fits all” approach to cancer treatment. Californians deserve better.

California’s life sciences sector has long led the way in solving some of the world’s greatest challenges, which was very evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to advancing access for underserved populations as we continue to innovate and produce new solutions. Biomarker testing is yet another example of how the life sciences bring precision medicine to the forefront so that all people can live longer, healthier lives. We are calling on Gov. Newsom to recognize that the many benefits of biomarker testing must be available to everyone.

Communities that have been under-resourced, including communities of color, individuals with limited income, rural residents, and patients receiving care in non-academic medical centers are less likely to receive recommended biomarker testing. Without action to expand coverage and access to biomarker testing, advances in precision medicine could increase existing disparities in cancer outcomes by race, ethnicity, income, and geography.

By making biomarker testing more widely available so that all California patients have access to the innovation and scientific advancements that define the Golden State, Gov. Newsom has a chance to improve access to healthcare innovation and help Californians live longer, healthier lives.

California Life Sciences is proud to join the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the University of California in supporting SB 912, shaping sound public policy related to cancer diagnosis and treatment while advancing Gov. Newsom’s vision of better health for all. Our shared goal with SB 912 is to provide patients with better care, leading to better health outcomes at lower costs.

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Autumn Ogden-Smith is the Director of State Legislation for American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) California, the nation’s leading cancer advocacy organization that is working every day to make cancer issues a national priority.

Mike Guerra is the President and Chief Executive Officer of California Life Sciences (CLS), a trade association that represents more than 1,100 companies throughout California and is committed to improving access to breakthrough technologies and advancing equity in healthcare.