A Renewed Fight To Overturn State Drug Coupon Ban

Who really benefits from prescription drug coupons?

By Fran Cronin
Guest Blogger

Even though he served in the Army during the height of the Vietnam war, Boston-born Mike Raftery did not know what it meant to fight for his life until 2009 when the liver cancer in his body became so acute that a liver transplant became his only hope for survival.

Not only is this surgery radical and grueling, it’s also expensive. For Raftery, 61, who attended technical school on the G.I bill to learn computer science, the prospect of high hospital bills and expensive post-operative medications was daunting. Fearing he would lose his health insurance if he went out on disability before his transplant date, Raftery worked until the day he was summoned into the hospital. Post-operatively, his medication intake soared: high doses of immune suppressant drugs, antibiotics, pain relief pills and anti-fungal medications he needed to keep his body from rejecting — and being infected by — his new liver.

The Lone Non-Coupon State

With time on his hands as he slowly recuperated, Raftery did what many patients don’t do. He read the reams of medication pamphlets the hospital gave him upon discharge. In addition to the usual information about efficacy and side effects, Raftery found coupon promotions to help defray the avalanche of co-pays he was accruing from his drug regimen.

Japan-based Astellas Pharma manufactured Prograf, the anti-rejection drug Raftery had to take four times a day. But the insurance he had through his job with the Salvation Army only allowed for a 30-pill per month prescription. So Raftery called the manufacturer to get the cost-saving coupons he had read about. “I had just been through the fight of my life,” said Raftery. “The interviewer gets to the last question and asks me what state I live in. When I said Massachusetts, the interviewer said, ‘sorry, we can’t give them [the coupons] to you.” Continue reading

Why Is There A Dangerous Shortage of Effective Cancer Drugs?

In case you missed it over the weekend, here’s a sobering opinion piece in The New York Times on the dearth of effective cancer drugs by Ezekiel Emanuel (Rahm’s brother, a former White House advisor and an oncologist who will soon be a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania).

Emanuel writes that cancer care for adults and children is being rationed because of the severe shortage of the most effective cancer drugs. “Of the 34 generic cancer drugs on the market, as of this month, 14 were in short supply,” he notes. The piece continues:

They include drugs that are the mainstay of treatment regimens used to cure leukemia, lymphoma and testicular cancer. As Dr. Michael Link, the president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, recently told me, “If you are a pediatric oncologist, you know how to cure 70 to 80 percent of patients. But without these drugs you are out of business.”

This shortage is even inhibiting research studies that can lead to higher cure rates: enrollment of patients in many clinical trials has been delayed or stopped because the drugs that are in short supply make up the standard regimens to which new treatments are added or compared.

The sad fact is, there are plenty of newer brand-name cancer drugs that do not cure anyone, but just extend life for a few months, at costs of up to $90,000 per patient. Only the older but curative cancer drugs — drugs that can cost as little as $3 per dose — have become unavailable. Most of these drugs have no substitutes, but, crazy as it seems, in some cases these shortages are forcing doctors to use brand-name drugs at more than 100 times the cost.

Continue reading