Study suggests financial assistance makes difference in whether Medicare patients can afford lifesaving leukemia drug

10.10.16

A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found that older cancer patients are delaying the use of leukemia drugs proven to prolong and save lives, likely because of the high initial cost of that treatment under their Medicare plans.

While chronic myeloid leukemia “has become a kind of aspirational gold standard among treatable cancers, with a variety of drugs that allow patients to live near-normal lifespans, including the blockbuster drug Gleevec,” an article in The Washington Post notes, this new study found “startlingly low uptake of those treatments in the first six months after diagnosis.”

In addition, the study found “that among patients who started taking the drug within six months of diagnosis, those who received subsidies to defray the cost were quicker to adopt the drug than those who did not have financial help.”

Researchers hypothesized that the burden of cost-sharing under Medicare drug plans could “explain why people who do not receive subsidies are slower to start the drug.”

“I’m not aware of any study that proves a delay will worsen outcomes,” but the disease can progress to a more acute form of cancer, said Vinay Prasad, a hematologist at Oregon Health and Science University, in the article published in The Washington Post last week. “All things being equal, if you have a person you’re thinking about starting, you wouldn’t want to delay.”

This is the kind of drug that nonprofit organizations help patients to afford through charitable premium and co-pay assistance programs. Gleevec is among the many medications and treatments that chronic disease patients receive charitable assistance to help pay for.

As a woman in Florida noted in comments to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last month: “My husband’s Gleevec costs over $10,000.00 a month. Can you even fathom that? WHO CAN AFFORD $10,000 A MONTH? This is a lifesaving drug & we should not have to be wealthy to be entitled to the same level of healthcare afforded only a certain segment of society.”

Read more:

  • Chronic disease patients, family members and caretakers unite in support of charitable premium assistance programs
  • Cancer patients’ survival may depend on whether they have private or public health insurance
  • Financial toxicity a major burden for cancer patients
  • Three reasons cancer patients should join the Chronic Disease Coalition