B.C. not promising additional help for couple paying out of pocket for cancer treatment

The province is not promising any additional help to a Coquitlam woman with Stage 4 breast cancer who is having to pay about $1,200 a month for her treatment.

Kari Taylor Atkins and her husband have been calling for transitional funding to help them afford her third line of treatment for metastatic breast cancer that has spread to her liver, bones and brain. The new drug regimen is known as HER2 Climb. Taylor Atkins said she started the protocol last fall, and it has been working for her.

“Since that time, the brain tumours have pretty much gone away,” she said on Tuesday, and noted she’ll have another scan next month. “My last scan showed that my brain was unremarkable, which is (a) good thing to hear, and everything else is stable now, so I am about as well as can be expected.”

But while she undergoes treatment, Taylor Atkins and her husband Matthew Atkins are also facing an additional financial burden. One of the three drugs in the new treatment, called Herceptin, is not being fully covered. Herceptin is already approved in B.C., and Taylor Atkins has had it before, but this time it’s costing the self-employed couple.

“The reason, from what we can gather, is because on paper there is no third line of treatment that exists yet for it to be funded for,” Atkins said. “What we’ve been told to ask for is transitional funding to just get us over that paperwork hump.”

The couple has reached out to the health ministry through their MLA, and received a response letter in March informing them the final reimbursement decision will ultimately be up to B.C. Cancer.

HEALTH MINISTER SAYS CARE PROVIDED BASED ON EVIDENCE

On Wednesday, CTV News asked Health Minister Adrian Dix about the couple’s situation and whether funding support would be provided.

“I’ve obviously heard what this family has said,” he said. “But I would say that in this case, as in others, care is provided based on the evidence.”

Dix said for this type of treatment, “the evidence suggests a certain amount of treatment is appropriate, and then based on the evidence, is put in place”.

“The kinds of treatment, the amount of treatment, the number of treatments, that’s all based on the evidence and guidance of people at B.C. Cancer,” he said. “And that will continue to be the case.”

Dix added there is compassionate access through drug companies, which the couple has tried already. They managed to receive full coverage for the two new drugs involved in the treatment, but only 50 per cent coverage for Herceptin.

“The issue here isn’t interim funding,” Dix said. “The issue here is the evidence.”

CTV News reached out to B.C. Cancer, but did not receive a response.

'THIS JUST SEEMS FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG'

The Canadian Cancer Society is now weighing in on the issue. In an emailed statement, Advocacy Manager Charles Aruliah said the Society “believes all Canadians should have equitable and timely access to the cancer drugs they require without financial hardship”.

“Coping with a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment is difficult enough,” he said. “People with cancer and their families should not have to deal with the additional stress of having to determine how they will pay for their medication.”

The couple said their oncologist suggested they start an online fundraiser to try and raise money to cover the treatment cost.

“That just seems fundamentally wrong to us. We don’t think that’s the right way to do it,” Atkins said. “The responses we keep getting back are saying, oh well, new drugs have to go through a process of getting funded, and of course, we understand that. But that’s not what we’re asking for. We want access to the drug that’s already funded, already available.”

Taylor Atkins said it’s stressful not knowing how long it may take to determine whether the treatment may be fully covered at some point.

“It’s just not a position I ever though I would find myself in,” she said. “One of the things that you always think when you’re a Canadian is health care is taken care of.”

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