Pharmaceutical News
Doctors urge to relax reimbursement for expensive cancer treatments

Reported by Liu Chia-Yun from Taipei

About 170,000 people die of cancer in Taiwan each year.  The NHI spends NT$30 billion a year on cancer drugs.  However, many innovative target therapies and immunotherapies are not included in the NHI benefit scheme.  This has imposed a heavy financial burden on many cancer patients. Doctors urge the NHI to consider patients’ rights, especially those in severe conditions.  Doctors suggest that the NHIA should consider adequately reimbursing, adopting co-payment or ring-fencing a special budget for cancer treatments.

Dr Huang Chiun-Sheng of the NTUH expressed that the high level satisfaction of NHI comes at the expense of some cancer patients who have been denied the access to many expensive cancer treatments.  Most private health insurance policies cover inpatient and outpatient service fees, but not include drug fees.

How expensive are those new cancer drugs?  Taking the example of a target therapy for early-stage breast cancer, the NHI sets tight regulations of its reimbursement; and, if patients go for private treatment, it will cost NT$900,000 a year.

Immunotherapies are even more expensive than target therapies.  Dr Yu Chung-Jen, Vice Superintendent of the NTUH, expressed that the cost of lung cancer treatments is the highest among all cancer treatments.  The first generation target therapy costs NT$80,000-100,000 a month, and the third generation costs NT$180,000-300,000 a month.  The emerging immunotherapies provide patients a chance to control the cancer cells; however, it comes with a big price tag of NT$300,000 a month.  If other treatments are used concomitantly, the cost will easily soar to at least NT$500,000 a month.

Dr Yu expressed that cancer patients are getting younger.  Many cancer patients are the main workforce of the society; yet, they are struggling with the treatment cost.  Dr Yu urged the NHIA to ringfence a budget for cancer drugs, like the budget for hepatitis C treatments.  Dr Yu also suggested that better private health insurance policies should be more readily available.

Su Lien-Ying, the CEO of the Hope Foundation for Cancer Care, expressed that whether new drugs can be included in the NHI benefit scheme rests in the size and the allocation of the NHI budget.  He urged the NHIA to put themselves in patients’ shoes and revise the reimbursement regulations to make them reasonable.  The NHIA should not make patients aimlessly waiting for new drugs, said Su.

【2017-11-09 /United Daily 】