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New chemo drugs out of reach for many patients

Kaiser Health News and the Washington Post are reporting today on a serious issue facing some cancer patients:

...A growing number of patients are being denied access to newer oral chemotherapy drugs or are required to shoulder hefty out-of-pocket costs, sometimes thousands of dollars a month, for cancer pills with annual price tags of more than $75,000. The reason is rooted in a reimbursement system that covers IV chemotherapy as a medical benefit but considers less-invasive oral chemotherapy to be part of a patient's drug plan, which tends to be far less generous.

...Although some new oral drugs have demonstrated only incremental benefits, extending life for several weeks, others represent genuine advances and have transformed once rapidly fatal cancers into manageable diseases.

The piece goes on to discuss legislative efforts to mandate that insurers cover oral and IV chemotherapy equally, and it quotes patients and doctors who have experienced the treatment dilemma:

"Some of the saddest stories are patients who say, 'I don't want to die and leave my family with a bundle of debt,'" [Brian Durie, MD, a hematologist-oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles] said. "These are people with a lethal disease, and it is so, so stressful" for them to also wrestle with the question of how to afford potentially life-saving medication.

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