Following the efforts of a Merimbula cancer patient, SueEllen Yates, Cancer Council NSW has made the cost of treatment outside big cities, a top priority and is raising the matter with NSW Treasurer, Andrew ConstanceCancer patients in the Bega Valley continue to pay more than some of their counterparts in the city for their treatment despite the matter being raised with both the Southern NSW Local Health District in 2011 and with the NSW Health Minister, Jillian Skinner in 2012.
Depending on the amount and type of drugs used, costs can vary between $150 and $400 for a cycle and patients can have up to six cycles, or weekly treatment.
The issue was raised in the News Weekly in September 2011 when Merimbula breast cancer survivor, SueEllen Yates spoke about the difference in cost for her and her sister-in-law in Sydney. While Mrs Yates was paying between $200 and $400 for each of six cycles of treatment, her sister-in-law had told her she didn’t have to pay.
Since her discovery, Mrs Yates has been campaigning for change and in July spoke at a Cancer Council conference in Sydney.
Now the Cancer Council NSW has made the issue its number one priority and is urging cancer patients or their carers to contact them so that Cancer Council officials can provide hard evidence of the inequity suffered by local patients.
Community programs co-ordinator at Cancer Council NSW’s Bega office, Jennifer Mozina said: “The Cancer Council has picked the five top issues and locally decided the chemotherapy co-payment is the number one issue to focus on because of its importance.
“It’s only NSW and the ACT that is experiencing this problem because the state governments never signed up to a PBS agreement that the other states signed up to.”
However it seems that in Sydney and some larger hospitals, health authorities have got around the problem and do not charge their cancer patients.
Ms Mozina said: “In the Southern NSW Local Health District Bega, Cooma and Moruya hospitals all charge the co-payment for chemotherapy treatments.”
Mrs Yates said: “Having the variation in payment systems depending on where you receive treatment doesn’t seem fair. I believe there is a real need for a vision for change, as having to pay a chemotherapy co-payment takes its toll on the family unit.”
Ms Mozina said that cancer patients should not have to worry about costs. “I was told this week of someone going to a different hospital out of their region so that they could get free treatment. I have even heard of people considering mortgaging their home so that they could pay for lifesaving treatment. We don’t pay for radiotherapy so why should we have to pay for chemo?”
Now the Cancer Council is determined to tackle the inequity of treatment and raise the level of awareness with the NSW government. On Friday Mrs Yates and Ms Mozina will be meeting with member for Bega and NSW Treasurer, Andrew Constance after Mrs Yates spoke to Mr Constance during her flight to Sydney to present at the Cancer Council conference.
Cancer Council wants your story
The issue of co-payments for chemotherapy treatment is not restricted to breast cancer patients, it affects anyone receiving chemotherapy in NSW or the ACT.
The Cancer Council wants to apply pressure to the state government over the discrepancy in costs of treatment in Sydney and costs in rural areas and wants to hear from cancer patients.
Contact community programs co-ordinator Cancer Council NSW, Bega office on 6492 1805 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Local cancer patients and their carers can also contact SueEllen Yates on 0457 794 939 or email email@example.com
Ms Morzina also urged people to join the CanAct advocacy network at www.canact.com.au
In February 2007 SueEllen Yates was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received treatment at Bega and following surgery there was a course of chemotherapy where SueEllen was prescribed six cycles of treatment.
She said: “When I received the bill in the mail, it was quite a shock. My cost was anywhere between $200-400 per cycle, not including any other drugs that I needed. Around the same time, my sister-in-law was also undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. When we talked, I discovered that she was receiving her chemotherapy drugs free from her Sydney hospital.”
As the primary income earner at that time, SueEllen had her cancer to deal with and also the worry of bills.
“The cost of the chemotherapy drugs was an issue for our family. Keeping up with all the normal bills as well as the chemo payments was very difficult. Without the support from CanAssist halfway through my treatment, it would have been a big challenge and we didn’t need another challenge at that time.
“Cancer can cause major financial stress in most families anyway and the cost of these bills compounds the situation,” SueEllen said.
In 2011 SueEllen raised the issue at a Breast Cancer Network Australia conference where she was representing the local PinkLink breast cancer support network.
Since then she has spoken at several conferences in an effort to raise awareness and discover why rural cancer patients in NSW pay more than their city counterparts.