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Ontario Covers Drug Costs For our Canadian Friends

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Ontario covers four expensive cancer drugs

By Joanna Frketich

The Hamilton Spectator

(Jul 8, 2006)

Four cancer drugs costing patients tens of thousands of dollars will now be paid for by the province.

It's a victory for Hamilton multiple myeloma patients who have been fighting for more than two years to have OHIP cover Velcade, a last-resort drug that costs patients about $60,000 to buy and have administered intravenously.

The Ministry of Health announced yesterday it will cover Velcade as well as Taxotere for early-stage breast cancer, Tomudex for mesothelioma caused by asbestos, and Tarceva for late-stage lung cancer.

"It's like a gift of life to us," said Lori Borsos, diagnosed with multiple myeloma three years ago. "I'm just shocked."

The 46-year-old Hamilton woman has travelled to Queen's Park, signed petitions and lobbied politicians in a long battle to get funding for Velcade.

Patients turn to Velcade when other therapies fail to treat the blood cancer affecting bone marrow. It prevents reproduction or growth of cancer cells.

Velcade is paid for by other provinces but was originally turned down in Ontario. That left patients, who had no other hope but Velcade, facing bills between $35,000 and $60,000.

"It was devastating," said Borsos, who runs a support group for multiple myeloma patients. "We had people who were going to move out of province to stay alive."

The earlier decision was reversed at the urging of Ontario's Drug Quality and Therapeutics Committee after the drug manufacturer provided new information. "We're delighted these drugs have been approved," said Terry Sullivan, CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, which manages the province's cancer care. "It's good news."

He says the funding will be in effect within days.

Borsos doesn't need the drug right now but says it's a tremendous relief to know she still has hope if her cancer gets worse.

"You can't give up hope. That's all we have," she said. "It's wonderful news."

The four drugs are expected to be used by 1,400 Ontario patients this year and 2,600 patients next year.

"We're committed to helping them in their struggle by providing access to the medications and treatments that will give them the best possible chance of winning their fight," said Health Minister George Smitherman said in a statement.

Cancer Care Ontario plans to make recommendations in the next few weeks regarding drugs that aren't covered. It's expected to advise the government to approve a controversial plan that would allow hospitals to administer intravenous drugs paid for by patients. It would cut the price nearly in half because patients would no longer have to pay private clinics to do it.

But there are concerns it would violate the Canada Health Act because intravenous drugs given in hospital have traditionally been considered medically necessary.

"It's still on the table for discussion," Sullivan said.



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