Government response to public cancer care limitations

NZ Herald has reported on Mandy Grantley’s cancer story. After Mandy was first diagnosed with bowel cancer she underwent chemo for six months. After finding out that the cancer had spread to her lungs, an additional six months of chemo and an unfunded drug, Cytoxan was recommended by three oncologists working within the public health sector. Mandy was informed that she could have her chemo at her local DHB hospital. She was told that she had to pay $64,000 for the drug herself and was redirected to a private clinic to have the drug administered. The drug was intended to simply prolong her life. With a young family, a struggling business, and an existing mortgage Mandy and her friends decided to set up a Givealittle page to raise funds. The experience made Mandy reassess the public health system. National deputy leader Shane Reti is seeking MPs to support his bill that will allow privately-funded cancer medicines to be administered through DHBs. In response, Finance Minister Grant Robertson has said that Labour wouldn’t support the bill as it would be adding to existing inequalities. Instead, the Government would focus on funding more cancer treatments through Pharmac.

“A woman battling cancer says heartbreak has turned to anger at the way she was forced to pay $64,000 for treatment advised by public health oncologists.

Mandy Grantley was given two years to live after bowel cancer spread to her lungs last year.

"They found a tumour in my bowels and removed it, which was all good," she told RNZ. "I had six months worth of chemo. After that I had a scan and it all looked good. It wasn't until last year during lockdown I was told over the phone it had spread to my lungs."

Grantley said she was then told by three different oncologists working within the public health system that her best course of action would be another six months of chemo alongside being administered unfunded drug, Cytoxan.

She was told she would need to go to a private clinic to have the drug administered after paying for the drug herself, and then go to get chemo at her local DHB hospital. The news was traumatic and overwhelming.

"The chemo was bad enough, but then being told you had to pay $64,000 for a private drug, which won't cure me but will prolong my life, and a better quality of life, I just thought, I can't do this.

"I have three young kids and a husband with a struggling business, we don't have $64,000. We would be remortgaging the house, which we already had a huge mortgage on."

Concerned for her family, Grantley persevered and two friends set up a Givealittle page and managed to raise the money.

The private drug cost her $27,000. To get it administered she had to pay a private clinic $36,000.

Grantley says she knows how lucky she is, but remains angry others will not be able to access money or credit to save their own lives.

"It makes me sick to my stomach that others out there don't have that opportunity ...  those poor families behind me - it's just wrong," she said.

Having to go to two different medical facilities was also stressful and time-consuming, with Grantley relying on people to drive her to and from the clinic and public hospital, she added.

To add insult to injury Grantley had to pay $8000 GST on her treatment. The experience has made her reassess the merits of the public healthcare system and the Government's priorities.

"They're making money out of me dying. So much for a free health system. When you really need it, you're on your own and you don't know what it's like until someone close to you goes through it. I was really upset, I was heartbroken. But now I'm just damn well angry."

Grantley finished her treatment in November and her scans since have come back clear, the latest a scan in February. She has another scan this month and remains hopeful.

"I've never felt so good, never felt so healthy."

She said her health outcome so far had proved the efficacy of Cytoxan as an anti-cancer drug.

National deputy leader Shane Reti is asking MPs to support his bill seeking to allow privately-funded cancer medicines to be administered through DHBs, to reduce the financial burden on those with cancer.

However, Finance Minister Grant Robertson told RNZ the Government would not be supporting the bill when it comes before Parliament because it would only add to existing health inequalities.

"It is a challenging area where people are self-funding the drugs because obviously for the most part what we want to do is fund people's treatment through the public system and then all of the costs and so on associated with it are managed that way," he said.

"The reason that we're not looking to move in this area is because what effectively it would mean is that somebody who does have enough resources to fund their own treatment would end up taking up space in the public health system that would otherwise go to people whose cancer treatment is publicly funded.

"So actually it would have the effect of exacerbating inequality rather than creating fairness."

He said the Government was instead focused on funding more cancer treatments through its Crown entity Pharmac. Click here to read more


nib on Pharmac review, and more daily news

Dr. Graeme Jarvis has written a piece on Stuff about the Government’s plan to conduct a review into Pharmac. In the piece, Dr. Jarvis notes that the review should be seen as being for the good of the country, as long as the review is intended to update an outdated system, improve Pharmac’s performance, and expand access to publicly funded medicines. Transparency, timeliness and equity have been described as being the focus of the review. 

“That this Government has decided to have a review into Pharmac should be seen as positive by the country, and good public sector governance. This assumes, of course, that the review truly aims to look at ways to modernise a 27-year-old system and both to improve the way New Zealand accesses publicly funded modern medicines and to enhance the agency’s performance.

Performance for any health service should not be about PR, such as modelled graphs reporting assumed, rather than actual, savings. It should be about health outcomes achieved. Hopefully, the review can lead to the generation of meaningful health outcome measurements for patients, not myth-based savings indicators.

Transparency, timeliness and equity seem to be key areas of focus in the review. Safety of medicines is not – that is rightly a statutory role for Medsafe, not Pharmac. However, given recent deaths following an enforced brand switch of an epilepsy drug, now subject to a coronial investigation, the safety of Pharmac’s cost-driven decision-making processes should be within scope.

Timeliness of decision-making is an issue. New Zealand takes 2.5 times as long as the OECD average of nine months to publicly fund modern medicines, all of which have undergone rigorous review internationally, including assessment of clinical need and effectiveness. Why the delay? Hopefully the review will answer this question.

Despite New Zealand’s comparable wealth on a GDP per capita basis, it funds between two and 10 times fewer modern medicines than our OECD peers. Why the disparity? Is it technical or fiscal rationing? Only the former is considered in-scope for the review.” Click here to read more

nib has noted that New Zealanders can take Pharmac out of the equation by signing up to Ultimate Health with Easy Overlay promotion. The campaign begun April 1 and will continue until 30 June 2021. The promotion is only being offered on nibAPPLY.

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Partners Life offer guide on customer affordability considerations

Naomi Ballantyne recently discussed concerns that advisers have brought forward in a video that Partners Life have published. Advisers mentioned that their clients were receiving contradicting advice from other advisers. In the video, Naomi discussed the options advisers have when dealing with similar situations.

“Recently we have been contacted by a number of advisers expressing concern about some of their Partners Life clients receiving advice from other advisers, which conflicts with the advice they gave their client to retain and amend their existing covers.

What should they tell their clients when asked why they would receive such conflicting advice from two different advisers? To help answer this question, Naomi has put together a short video explaining to clients the questions they might want to ask should they be faced with this dilemma.  You can easily share this video with your clients from our Facebook page, should you think this might be useful to any particular client.”

 

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nib: organisations with 15 or more people now can have all pre-existing conditions covered

Asteron Life: Understanding and supporting client vulnerability webinar

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Southern Cross launches Cancer Cover Plus, and more daily news

Southern Cross has announced the launch of Cancer Cover Plus. The new cover is intended to give members broader chemotherapy options. Cancer Cover Plus will give members the option to upgrade to Chemotherapy 100, which has a benefit limit of $100,000 or Chemotherapy 300 which has a benefit limit of $300,000. Additionally, members will have the choice to access non-Pharmac cancer drugs.

“Southern Cross Health Insurance (SCHI) is launching competitive cancer care cover to give members more choice when it comes to chemotherapy, including increased access to cancer drugs not subsidised by Pharmac.

SCHI’s new Cancer Cover Plus has two optional upgrades - Chemotherapy 100 (benefit limit of $100,000) and Chemotherapy 300 (benefit limit of $300,000) – to help members during their cancer treatment journey. This covers the cost of Pharmac and non-Pharmac, Medsafe indicated chemotherapy drugs and their administration for the treatment of cancer.”

Nick Astwick has said that the new cover has been designed with the needs of members in mind. Cancer Cover Plus has been developed to complement the unlimited surgical and radiotherapy benefits. Astwick notes that the cover was created so more New Zealanders have faster and more access to affordable cancer treatment options.

“We understand that a cancer diagnosis, or the fear of one, can be scary for people so we wanted to give members peace of mind by providing them with more cancer cover options.

 

“We have developed them to complement the unlimited surgical and radiotherapy benefits we offer in most of our plans, and this will help to provide a comprehensive package to the vast majority of our members who have these products and also tell us their main concern is cancer care,” he said.

 

The Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report 2020 revealed that 79 per cent of New Zealanders are concerned about not having access to cancer treatment services and 59 per cent are worried about experiencing or developing an illness or disease.

 

“Not all cancer drugs are funded by Pharmac which makes them unaffordable for many people. We created this new cancer cover so Kiwis could have faster access and more treatment options to receive potentially lifesaving chemotherapy drugs if they need to,” said Astwick.” 

In other news:

At goodreturns: Adviser consultancy firms say full licensing provisions bring mandate for change

From Partners Life: Do your self-employed clients have the right income cover? 


A beautiful summation of the conflict between heart and head

I can't think of a better demonstration right now of the conflict that happens for me when evaluating insurance product than this one: 

Funding

I am sure many advisers could create similar versions based on different features of insurance policies, funded and non-funded treatments, and so on. The struggle is real. 


Battling cancer and fighting for funding

Dr Rosalie Stephens says it's crucial that PHARMAC moves more quickly when revolutionary treatments come along to prevent patients from deteriorating or potentially dying as they cannot personally afford the treatments.

According to this article it takes the UK on average 143 days to fund a modern medicine after it is registered for use, compared to 370 days in Australia. In NZ, patients wait on average 517 days for PHARMAC funding, with no time frame for decisions.