Robert Deckman, at his home in Gloucester (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
About three years ago, right around his 50th birthday, Robert Deckman found out he qualified for MassHealth. So this carpenter from Gloucester did something he hadn’t done in years: He went to the doctor.
“I’m like, well, let’s get the 50-year tuneup, the whole nine yards, just everything,” Deckman said recently, tossing his hands in the air. “The blood work was the last thing I did.”
The blood work showed Deckman had hepatitis C, a virus that damages the liver. His doctor delivered good news: A drug coming on the market would almost certainly cure his disease. And bad news: One bottle of the pills would cost $37,000. Deckman would probably need two.
“‘I can’t pay that, so I guess I’ll just die,’ ” Deckman recalled telling the doctor.
The doctor told Deckman insurance should cover Harvoni, the medicine the physician would prescribe, but his insurance provider might make him “jump through hoops,” the doctor said.
Deckman was denied the very expensive life-saving drug twice. His skin turned yellow, his pony tail thinned, he developed a skin infection and problems with his teeth. Deckman’s family grew desperate. His sister, Viki Deckman-Moeller, laid out a strategy.
“Plan A was to put a fundraiser together for my brother, and see if we could, just through friends and family, get some donations,” Deckman-Moeller said. “And then, we were looking at, or I was looking at, going out and getting a loan of some type at a low interest rate, for — it would have been about $50,000 I guess.”
Taking out a loan or pulling out a credit card to pay a health bill is not new. But now, with hep C pills that are $1,000 apiece, cancer drugs priced at $100,000 a year, and gene therapy at almost $1 million per treatment, credit cards or a line of credit at your bank will not be adequate.
Dr. David Weinstock, left, and professor Andrew Lo (Courtesy)
MIT professor Andrew Lo and Dr. David Weinstock at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute say it’s time to create a long-term health care loan.
“The basic idea is for individual patients to have access to health care loans, not unlike a mortgage or auto loan or student loan,” Lo said. Patients would “borrow from a loan company to pay for these extremely expensive therapies and amortize the payments over a period of time, say five to 10 years.”
The loans would be available for drugs or treatment that would cure a disease or improve a patient’s health over the length of the loan.
“If the drug works, then all the payments would be made, but if it doesn’t, then payment would stop,” Weinstock said. “That creates more risk in the investment itself but it also incentivizes drug companies to develop drugs that really do work.” Continue reading