Saving cancer patients money and lives

FRESNO, Calif.

80 year old Robert Lewis of Madera was diagnosed with esophageal cancer three years ago. His Oncologist Dr. Mustajeeb Haseeb of Fresno prescribed IV chemotherapy followed by two weeks of treatment in pill form.

Lewis had to drive 30 miles from Madera to Cancer Care Associates in Fresno for his IV therapy. His pill... he simply took at home. One day his oral therapy almost came to an abrupt halt.

Lewis said, "The pharmacist came in and said, kind of a shocked look on his face too, He says, 'they're not gonna pay for it.' And I asked, "how much is it?" And he said, '3000 dollars, for every two weeks your taking the pills.'"

Lewis and his wife Helen were looking at having to pay $18 thousand out of pocket. Dr. Haseeb says many times insurance companies don't want to cover the cost of the pills because they're more expensive than infusion treatments. But he always tries to use the pills when possible.

Dr. Haseeb explains, "The cancer patient is already going through emotional and physical stresses. So taking medication by mouth is convenient for them and they can take it at their leisure."

Assemblyman Henry T. Perea of Fresno says it shouldn't be up to the insurance companies to decide what treatment a cancer patient should receive. He says even though oral chemo is expensive, adding coverage to insurance plans will cost very little.

Perea said, "What we have found is that by covering oral forms of chemotherapy, same way as IV, it will only increase the cost one penny to four cents a month per member of a health plan."

Perea's Assembly Bill AB 1000 would require insurance companies to cover oral as well as IV cancer treatments no matter what the cost.

As for Robert Lewis, Dr. Haseeb changed his oral medication to one that was covered, he is now cancer free.

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