Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 27, 2012

Forum: Support affordable oral chemo

It is news we all hope to avoid: You or a loved one has cancer.

Now brace yourself for another blow: Getting the right treatment at an affordable price can be next to impossible, even with health insurance. It's a problem that has become commonplace around the nation, and happens all too often in Michigan.

Many new chemotherapy drugs come in pill form that patients can take at home, rather than intravenous injections administered at a medical facility. Oral therapies are targeted to attack cancer cells, while traditional chemotherapy attacks both healthy and cancerous cells. Oral chemotherapies are often the most effective, and many times the only, treatment option available. A full quarter of the nearly 500 cancer drugs in the pipeline today are being developed in pill form, making oral chemotherapies the wave of the future.

The problem is how patients are charged by some health plans for their oral chemotherapy treatments. Typically, a patient with private insurance who is receiving intravenous or injectable chemotherapy pays a minimal co-payment each treatment. Patients prescribed an oral chemotherapy, on the other hand, are often expected to pay "co-insurance" — a percentage of the cost of the drug. As a result, countless patients are forced to pay thousands of dollars a month out-of-pocket for the medicine they need to survive, and some are forced to face the consequences of not being able to afford treatment at all.

As the executive director of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Michigan Chapter, I have spoken to far too many patients forced to weigh the benefit of receiving the proper treatment versus the burden of its cost.

In some cases, the financial burden is so great that patients or family members are forced to get a second or third job to pay for essentials like their mortgage, groceries, utilities, and the lifesaving drugs needed to have a fighting chance against cancer.

Thankfully, a bill has been introduced in the Michigan Legislature that will fix this problem by removing the disparity in how insurance plans cover the different types of chemotherapy treatments when it comes to patient out-of-pocket costs.

The bill has already cleared the Senate and is now under consideration in the House Committee on Health Policy. I urge members of that committee, as well as the full Michigan House of Representatives, to follow suit and pass the oral chemotherapy access bill (SB 540-541) to increase patient access to these life-saving treatments.

About the author: Peggy Shriver is executive director of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Michigan Chapter.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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