Cancer Drug Donation Program is Neighbor Helping Neighbor

I wrote an op-ed for Montana newspapers about a bill I carried in the 2009 Legislative Session. It was HB409, to allow unused, unopened cancer drugs to be donated to patients who cannot afford them.

The first Montana paper to print the piece was the Fairfield Sun Times!

New Law May Help Cut Costs Of Cancer Treating Drugs

Here's the news on the new law:

Nearly everyone's lives have been touched by cancer. A new state law effective October 1 establishes a cancer drug donation program to help cancer patients get drugs they cannot afford by distributing thousands of dollars of unused medication to patients instead of destroying the drugs.

In the last state legislative session, House Bill 409 created a way for unused, unopened cancer drugs to be donated to participating pharmacies and care facilities and re-dispensed to qualifying patients, who otherwise could not attain them because of their astronomical cost.

The need for this new program is immense. Cancer drugs are among the most expensive pharmaceuticals on the market. They do wondrous things: they target and kill cancer cells, target the interactions between cancer cells and the patient, and help with nausea from chemotherapy. Cancer drugs can also prompt the development of red blood cells and help with a patient’s energy level.

But a drug is only good if it can be administered.

In testimony at the legislature last February, Dr. Jack Hensold of the Bozeman Cancer Center said that, “new cancer therapies are, without exception, very expensive, ranging from $3000 to $9000 in monthly costs. Since nearly all the oral chemotherapies are subject to co-pays, all patients, independent of their insurance coverage, are placed at significant financial risk when diagnosed with cancer. Within the first month of treatment, a patient will be liable for a $5000 payment for their drug.”

The cancer drug donation program will make available very sophisticated drugs from people who want to donate them to people who need them but simply cannot afford them.

Cancer patients testified in support of the bill too. One woman said she was grateful that the hearing was this year and not the previous session because she was undergoing chemotherapy then and was bald. She appeared before the House committee with a packet of medication she wishes to donate, an anti-nausea drug to which she developed a resistance.

She has a month’s supply with an expiration date of 2011. She said, “It’s hundreds and hundreds of dollars in my medicine cabinet. I can’t bring myself to flush it down the toilet. Someone should use these!”

In the Senate, a woman testified that she’d been an office administrator for an oncologist for 20 years and saw the need first-hand. Four years ago, her husband, a former firefighter, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and undergoes treatment monthly. One of his prescribed medications, Velcade, costs $7000 a month for 21 pills. Another of his drugs costs a co-pay of $4295 a month, and yet another, more than $6000 a month.

It’s difficult enough to face a diagnosis of cancer. Patients who want to fight cancer but who may not have the financial or pharmaceutical means now have a chance to receive drugs from the new donation program. The Montana Board of Pharmacy will adopt rules very soon to implement the law.

In Montana, the spirit of helping one another is strong. There’s no reason for effective cancer drugs to be wasted or destroyed for want of a process to make them available to people in need. That’s why I sponsored House Bill 409. For those with cancer drugs to donate, and for the patients who desperately need the drugs, the cancer drug donation program bridges the gap.

Representative JP Pomnichowski is serving her second term in the Montans House of Representatives. A fifth-generation Montanan, she has worked as an EMT/firefighter, an orthopedic surgery practice manager, and in medical records.


Liam Central NJ said…
I think this is a wonderful idea and a wonderful thoughtful suggestion. You are a truly caring person. It says alot what you have come up with. I only wish I lived in Montana. Because right now I live in NJ and have no options due to the medication I am prescribed. It costs me after numerous discount programs $2800 per month. Before the discounts it was a ton more. But after dr visits and everything else the $2800 puts me over the top. I only wish other states will have people come forward with ideas and structure such as yours.

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