Stop Bankrupting The Sick: Affordable Cancer Meds Are a Reality in This State

Stage Four breast cancer patient Bren Flowers is nothing short of a hero for those coping with the massive financial costs of cancer treatment.

Physically and emotionally exhausted, with her family financially strapped from paying for pricey oral chemotherapy drugs, Flowers traveled almost three hours north to Sacramento from her Fresno, Calif., home not once, but twice, to speak to the California State Assembly this year.

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB219 into law on Wednesday, backing the Access to Cancer Treatment Act that Flowers pushed for, which requires health insurers to limit insured patient costs to $200 for a 30-day supply of oral anti-cancer medication. A full course of treatment can cost thousands of dollars.

“It’s totally financially devastated my family. I’m really happy because it feels like I’ve left a legacy. My situation does feel so dire, now,” Flowers told TakePart in a tearful phone interview.

The new law adds momentum to Flowers’ ongoing fight to lower the price of covered anti-cancer meds—even if she herself doesn’t survive her own fight against the disease before the bill is initially implemented, affecting policies starting in 2015 and later.

“Bren will say every credit card offer she received in the mail she signed up for just so she could buy the medication,” said Sharon Johnson, executive director of the Central Valley's Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer advocacy group.

“She inspires me on a daily basis," Johnson said. "(Bren) testified in front of the Assembly that she’ll never forget un-wrapping a bottle of chemo that came in the mail. And she put that bottle on the table, and told her father, ‘This is what $1,400 looks like.’ That one bottle cost $1,400.”

Cancer patients such as Flowers, who has depended on oral chemo medication, and activists such as Johnson, a two-time cancer survivor who has never had oral chemo, can attest to the stress of having a debilitating illness.

Individuals and families have been forced to declare bankruptcy due to the high cost of treatment and medication. A study published in May in the journal Health Affairs based on research conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle looking at a database of adults in Washington State found that cancer patients were 2.65 times more likely to go bankrupt than those without cancer.

“No family, no individual should be ruined financially because they’re trying to live,” says Johnson. “I think dealing with financial hardship slows the healing time.”

Adds Julia Forth, director of marketing at the Cancer Support Community-Benjamin Center in Los Angeles, “We deal with psycho-social stressors on patients. People can lose the primary caretaker in their family, and lose the ability to pay for other needs.”

On a personal level, my own mother passed away from breast cancer when I was 9 years old. She was 39. Any bill that provides more widespread cancer treatment options and reduces costs, in my eyes, places more importance on the human element of this illness: to hopefully get better.

Still, in the interim year between now and when the bill actually affects health insurance policies in 2015, affordability and access are still key. This year could be financially devastating to people who can't wait that long for affordible medicine.

“Those who can’t afford oral chemo will stay on infused chemo, which has more side effects, which again, has financial implications,” says Johnson. “When you consider the disparity of people living in rural areas who would benefit from oral chemo, from pills, they have to travel long distances for infusion chemo, which also has a financial impact.”

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Original article from TakePart