I-Team report: Cancer treatment controversy - WNEM TV 5

I-Team report: Cancer treatment controversy

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Sixteen pills a day, seven days a week – the bitter taste of fighting cancer.

“Actually, it was working. It was working for me,” said Jody Schnetzler, cancer patient.

Schnetzler, 59, credits the capsules of the oral chemotherapy drug Lynparza for shrinking her pea sized tumor on her liver to nearly half its size.

“It targets the cancer and it starves the cancer,” Schnetzler said.

It was her genetic make-up that made her a candidate for a specialized oral chemo treatment that locks in like a missile, targeting her specific type of cancer.

“Genetically I believe it came from my father’s side and because I had the gene mutation, it was probable for me to take that and I took it for a full year,” Schnetzler said.

The convenience of the at home treatment as opposed to traditional intravenous chemo comes with a hefty price tag.

“It costs $12,000 a month and it’s a lot of money. I was told my insurance would cover 60 percent and I cover 40, and it equaled about $5,300 a month,” Schnetzler said.

That price wasn’t possible for her. Especially compared to the cost of traditional chemo at $25 to $50 copay with her insurance.

Her doctors insisted the oral treatment was her best chance to beat her cancer.

She started applying for assistance, but every avenue had its own expiration date and that help would eventually run out.

“I figured well, if my pension can cover my prescription then that’s good. Then I don’t have to worry about selling things to maintain my life longer, but my pension does not cover the $5,300 a month,” she said.

Michigan is one of only seven states that allows health insurance providers to label oral chemotherapy as a pharmaceutical, instead of calling it a medical benefit like traditional chemo.

“When you’re taking the oral chemotherapy, that’s chemotherapy whether it’s in the tablet form or whether it’s infusible,” said Dr. Karl Nitz, oncology pharmacist for Covenant.

Nitz said oral chemotherapy treatments are making remarkable strides in the fight against certain types of cancers.

“Try to block the over stimulation of this pathway causing the cancer cell to grow,” Nitz said.

Nitz said the drugs are proving to be so effective one new oral chemotherapy drug was introduced per month in the last two years.

Seven have been developed to fight lung cancer, four for breast cancer, three for ovarian cancer, and four for different blood cancers.

“These agents are as powerful as the intravenous chemotherapy is,” Nitz said.

Michigan senators agree. They passed a bipartisan measure, 36 to 1, to redefine oral chemotherapies as a treatment that should be covered under health insurance plans.

Schetzler hopes the State House will follow suit.

“It’s terrible. Anybody who has to make a choice, do I live longer or do I sell my house? Or go through savings for retirement. It’s a big choice,” Schnetzler said.

It is a choice she no longer has to make. Oral chemo is no longer an option for her.

New cancers have formed on her liver and on her brain.

She now has to make a two-hour drive to Ann Arbor every two weeks for IV treatments.

It is an inconvenience of the cost of survival, she said.

“I wake up grateful every day and I go to bed thanking the lord that I had a great day. So I stay positive because that’s just who I am,” Schnetzler said.

Opponents of the legislation believe if it passes, everyone would incur higher insurance premiums to make up for what they believe is the real problem – skyrocketing specialty drug costs.

A similar bill was rejected by the Michigan House in the 2011-2012 session.

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