Sunday: Patient finds big difference in cancer drug therapy costs
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Saturday, March 02, 2013
OKLAHOMA CITY — It started as a pain in the back.
Earl Secrist’s doctor said it looked like a herniated disk.
During an MRI, Secrist overheard a technician use the word “metastasized.” He didn’t know much about medicine, but he knew enough to realize his life was changing radically.
“That was a ripper,” said Secrist.
An aggressive prostate cancer was already eating into Secrist’s bones. Later, a doctor would tell Secrist that after an initial examination, he didn’t expect the retired Tulsa deputy police chief to live another year.
But through a strategy of hormone injections and a series of different oral medications — constantly shifting in response to how the cancer responded — Secrist, now 74, is still alive more than 10 years later and looking forward to seeing his grandchildren and his great-grandchild grow up.
The thing is, life on cancer therapy isn’t cheap. Secrist has “good” insurance, but the co-pay on his latest oral medication was $1,938.
Eventually, the catastrophic coverage clause on his policy will kick in, so he’s not complaining for himself, but Secrist says it’s hard for him to figure why in many cases the costs for oral drugs for cancer patients are more expensive — sometimes dramatically so — than intravenous treatments with the same medicine.
It’s the sort of thing that could crush someone who didn’t have good insurance, he said.
“Think about ... the guy who’s working every day and making a living for a family and one day somebody says, ‘You’ve got cancer, and this pill right here will extend your life or save your life, but, oh, wait a minute, you can’t afford it. Well, you and your family need to start planning your funeral.’ That’s just wrong.”
Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, wonders the same thing, and he’s proposed legislation mandating that insurance companies equalize coverage disparities between oral chemotherapies and IV chemotherapies.
Read more in Sunday's World.
Cancer patient Earl Secrist of Broken Arrow fills a glass of water to take four Zytiga pills at 6 a.m. each day to treat his prostate cancer. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World