Guest Blog: Family in Ontario Calls Upon Health Minister for Action

The following letter is one of many that have been sent to Health Ministers and elected representatives in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. This letter is published here with permission of the family. Names have been withheld to protect the privacy of the patient and her family.

September 11, 2015

Honourable Ministers:

My name is (Private Name Withheld for Privacy) and I live in Guelph, Ontario.   In July of 2012 my wife of 25 years, was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia called CML.   As I am sure Honourable Dr. Hoskins knows, CML is a leukemia such that white blood cells with an abnormal gene multiply very rapidly and squeeze out the normal while blood cell.  The leukemic cells lack the ability to fight infection.  Approximately 15 years ago the vast majority of the patients diagnosed with this disease died within a few years.  The last resort for these patients of the past was a very costly bone marrow transplant and chemo/radiation treatment.   But most died anyway.

In the last 10-15 years a notable group of Doctors, specifically Dr. Brian Druker of the University of Oregon, pushed the development of a drug commonly called Imatinib and also conducted clinical treatment trials.  His research and persistence created the first cancer drug in the world to target just the cancer cell and not healthy cells.   His research and work, along with many others, including the very highly respected Dr. Jeffrey Lipton at Princess Margaret Hospital, have dramatically changed the treatment for this disease. Today most CML patients can live a relatively normal life, and even expect the same life expectancy of those who do not have CML.  The new drugs are not a cure, just a very effective treatment.

It is estimated the work of Dr. Druker, Dr. Lipton and other clinical cancer researchers has saved 100,000 lives of people diagnosed with CML across the globe.

Ironically enough, my wife's mother also had Leukemia (another type), and almost died from the disease a number of years ago.  I was with her when the Haematologist in Kitchener told her she would not last more than two months.  In fact, she did survive, almost 20 years now, after receiving life saving bone marrow transplant at Victoria Hospital in London.  She was in hospital for the better part of a year.  For our young family at the time, having Nana survive and prosper was indeed a blessing we are still very thankful for today.

My wife's mother's treatment was covered by the Ontario medical plan.  Still today, treatments for cancer inside the hospital, including intravenous drugs, radiation and bone marrow transplants are covered by Ontario's medical insurance.

My wife's cancer treatment, which is an oral medication taken once per day, is NOT covered by the Ontario medical plan.  Apart from check ups from a very caring Doctor at the Balsillie Cancer Treatment Centre at Grand River Hospital <name withheld>'s only treatment is an oral medication.

If <name withheld> and I lived in most other provinces her treatment would be fully covered.  As it is in Ontario we were able to get a Trillium subsidy for this medication, however we still have to pay 4% of our family income as a deductible for it. While we are able to afford it, it is still a very large financial obligation for our family.

If <name withheld> were to receive treatment in the hospital via intravenous drugs, radiation or bone marrow transplant this would also be fully covered.  It is surprising to see that a more costly, and less effective treatment, would be fully covered.

As a society we do not tolerate discrimination.  As a society we have become more aware of how we discriminate, and then make efforts to correct.  We do not tolerate discrimination in our health system based on someone’s race, someone’s sexual preference, someone’s income, someone’s IQ.  Why do we tolerate discrimination based on the type of cancer they have?!!  Oral medication or intravenous medication?  Why would we discriminate and not publicly fund the treatment because of how it enters the body?  "Intravenous cancer treatment?  We have you covered!"  "Oral medication for your Cancer?  You're on your own!" says the Ontario Government.  It's fascinating to me that I find myself in the position of even writing this letter!

A more effective treatment for treating CML is taking an oral medication.  A more effective treatment for treating CML is by outpatient care without incurring the cost of treating via intravenous medications, expensive radiation or even more expensive bone marrow transplants.  

"So let's make the patient pay, instead of paying via our socialized medical plans." said someone.  Did the bureaucrats even give this some thought?  Or was it just one of those things that slipped through the cracks when some very incredible people changed the face of how cancer is treated in the world?

As I think about this more, the situation must be the latter, whereby it just slipped through the cracks.  There is no other logical explanation that I can think of.   Honourable Ministers, I know you must be aware of this inequity.  I'm sure Dalton McGuinty was aware of this inequity previously.  Honourable Ms. Wynn, you are now aware of this inequity.  Why has it not been corrected?

According to the Cameron Institute, access to oral cancer medications via the Ontario Medical plan would cost the province $30MM-98MM per year and lead to a 17% reduction in chemotherapy unit costs.  It is therefore also a financially prudent expense, especially when considered against the Ornge and energy plant wastes we have seen in this province in recent years.

As a taxpayer in this province I am demanding equal access to cancer treatment for all.  Whilst our family may be financially capable of paying the deductible there must be many others avoiding the more effective treatment solely because of your discrimination.   It is devastating enough that a family member has a life threatening disease, let alone the significant financial hardship and stress it can bring upon a family because the person has an oral treatment instead of intravenous.  This discrimination needs to stop now.

The most important person in the lives of me and my three children is my wife <name withheld> and their mother.  We are so thankful for the treatment providers today and the researchers of the past.  Without them we wouldn't have her today, three years after she was first diagnosed.  Of course I would be happy to pay whatever I had to for an eternity, but to be discriminated against because of the type of treatment she receives is just not acceptable to me any longer as a taxpayer.

I support the Leukemia Society, the CML Society and the CanCertainty Coalition in their effort to stop the ludicrous nature of this policy in Ontario.

Please act now and eliminate this discrimination?

Best Regards,
(Name Witheld for Website Purposes. Family is willing to meet with decision makers as needed and can be contacted through: [email protected]).

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