Government grants cancer care coverage to B.C woman

Health Minister says rigorous process needed to determine approved oncology drugs

Government grants cancer care coverage to B.C woman

A Coquitlam resident who had to pay for a portion of her cancer treatment for the previous 14 months is pleased that the provincial government of British Columbia is now paying for all her medication.

Herceptin, a widely used drug covered by the province, was part of Kari Taylor Atkins' treatment when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

Doctors advised her to continue taking Herceptin as well as two new medications that the pharmaceutical firms had provided her free of charge under compassionate care after her cancer advanced to her brain.

However, if she began using those new medications to treat her brain tumours, the province would stop paying for Herceptin for her breast cancer.

The new brain cancer medications were given the go-ahead for use, but the government had not yet negotiated their price. Multi-drug cancer treatment protocols must be approved.

“The drugs are put together as a protocol in a bundle, and until that bundle of drugs is approved, they are not approved as individuals,” Atkins told CTV News. “It had never occurred to me, never at all occurred to me, that the drugs would be required but not paid for.”

In a 2017 report, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB) found that among new medicines that were approved in Canada during 2016 and 2017, over one quarter were developed for the treatment of cancer. The average 28-day treatment cost for oncology medicines, it found, was $10,900

“The drug is called Herceptin, it’s for people with HER-2 positive cancer, it’s in the name,” said Matthew Atkins, her husband. “If it’s not for her, who are we saving it for? And they just wouldn’t give it up over a paperwork issue, because they haven’t finalized that protocol yet.”

Taylor Atkins had to pay out of pocket to have Herceptin IV infusions at a private facility in order to maintain her three-drug treatment regimen.

The couple has spent close to $18,000 over the last 14 months.

“It’s been a stressful time knowing every Monday before the treatment, the pharmacy would phone and basically say we are here, we have your drugs ready to mix, we just need to make sure you can afford to pay for them,” Taylor Atkins told CTV News.

The three-drug treatment has now received complete approval and will be funded by the province, the couple learned last week.

Matthew and his wife maintain that in addition to improving patient support and communication, the approval process for drug protocols needs to be sped up.

In a statement, Health Minister Adrian Dix said: "I am glad to hear this drug treatment protocol is now covered, so this patient and her family will no longer need to pay out of pocket.”

According to Dix, new oncology medications that are approved for funding and added to the BC cancer drug benefit list must pass a formal and meticulous process.

In this instance, the drug treatment protocol "went through this process and is now funded, which is great news," according to his statement.