I found this newspapter article last week about a fellow multiple myeloma patient’s work to achieve equitable payment of oral chemotherapy costs by insurance companies. I met Tom last fall in Cambridge. He is a bright, articulate, caring guy. I’m glad he’s feeling well enough to help the International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) lobby congress on our behalf:
Cancer survivor argues for parity in drug treatment options
By Michael McCord [email protected]
April 19, 2010 — A local cancer survivor is watching closely as House lawmakers soon will vote on a bipartisan bill that would establish a study commission to investigate drug parity for cancer treatment.
Portsmouth resident Tom Liebert was diagnosed in 2006 with multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone marrow cancer. While his cancer is in remission, multiple myeloma is incurable; but new drug therapies have allowed Liebert to live, he said, “with a high quality of life.”
He founded the New Hampshire/Maine Multiple Myeloma Support Group, and one of his top concerns is the disparity in health insurance coverage in New Hampshire between intravenous and oral drug therapies.
Liebert, who testified April 6 in support of SB 510 before the House Consumer and Commerce Affairs Committee, said that insurers in New Hampshire will cover as part of medical treatment in-clinic intravenous drugs such as chemotherapy — but not oral drugs, which fall under prescription drug guidelines in health insurance plans.
“I understand why they (insurance companies) have done it, but it’s an absurd situation for patients,” Liebert told the Herald. He said that for many patients he knows, it can cost thousands of dollars annually to pay out-of-pocket expenses for a drug they could take at home and eliminate the time and expense required for treatment in a medical center. “It makes no sense medically or economically,” he said.
Nationally, an estimated 20,000 new cases of multiple myeloma are diagnosed annually. Liebert said he was helped by intravenous drug use, but new drugs have come onto the market in the past few years that can be taken orally. Liebert said the disease ravaged him physically so that he is no longer able to work as a college lecturer, and that he is covered through social security disability and Medicare.
The bill would set up a study commission to review the disparities and the ways that different states have addressed them — and to make recommendations for further legislative action by Nov. 1. The Senate approved the measure last month and the House Consumer and Commerce Affairs Committee approved the bill last week. The full House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the measure.
Sen. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, is one of the bill’s co-sponsors and said a study commission would be important to address the drug parity issue.
“While all study committees are not equal in usefulness, this one seemed worth the effort as a step in addressing potential medical cost reductions,” Merrill said. “There are reportedly some significant differences between the costs of the two forms of (chemotherapy) treatment.”
Liebert testified at the request of the International Myeloma Foundation, which is making a national state-by-state effort to change drug parity laws — to require what the IMF believes will be a more equitable treatment reimbursement based on therapeutic benefit, not based on how the drug is administered.
“As a practicing hematologist-oncologist, I need the freedom to prescribe therapies based on their potential efficacy,” said Dr. Brian G.M. Durie, IMF chairman and co-founder. “Something is very wrong when the largest side effect is economic, based upon inequitable and irrational differences in reimbursement.”
In his testimony, Liebert said that other states including Hawaii, Indiana, and Oregon “have signed oral drug parity coverage bills into law and many others are in the process of doing the same,” and that a bill was introduced in Congress in 2009. He also told lawmakers that studies from three states have shown only “negligible” increases in member premium prices — nationally, the average could come to 50 cents per member, per month — to cover most parity plans.
Way to go, Tom! Feel good and keep smiling! Pat