Dear Mr. Singh, and Ms. Matthews,
I am writing to you today on behalf of my mother, Anne Mitchell, who has been a Canadian citizen for 40 years, and yesterday was told she would have to pay to receive chemotherapy treatment for drugs that are currently approved for funding in Ontario. That’s correct, drugs that are currently approved for funding, but she cannot receive them for purely bureaucratic reasons.
My mother has Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and was first diagnosed in 2009. She was treated in October 2010 with Fludarabine and Rituximab. She only received 2 treatments, because she had an adverse reaction to Fludarabine and ended up with such a severe lung infection that she was hospitalized for 3.5 weeks and nearly died. Luckily, her cancer went into remission. However, within the last 6 months it has returned (as CLL does), and her doctor recommended immediate treatment with Bendamustine and Rituximab. With this treatment protocol her prognosis for a long remission is very good. Her first chemo treatment was to start yesterday. When she got onto the Oncology ward at Brampton Civic Hospital and was getting prepared for her first treatment, the pharmacist came over to tell her that the government would not pay for her chemotherapy.
As he explained, the main drug her doctor prescribed (Bendamustine) is only covered for 'first line' chemo. Since my mother had chemo before, it's not covered for her. However, as I stated earlier, she wasn't able to complete the chemo before because she had such a negative reaction to Fludarabine.
The other issue is that along with the main drug, they give a companion drug (Rituximab). Rituximab is approved for second line use, but only with Fludarabine the drug my mother can't take.
To reiterate – both drugs that my mother’s oncologist prescribed ARE funded by the government, however, in my mother’s case they have denied her funding. These are not experimental drugs awaiting testing or approval, they are already approved! If a drug is approved for funding, how can you deny a Canadian citizen access to that drug? Someone in another hospital, or even in the chair next to her in the same hospital will receive funding for these drugs, but my mother will not? How is this possible in our great country that prides itself on universal healthcare?
As it stands, the cost of both drugs per treatment is $8,700. With the prescribed 6 treatments, it will cost my mother $52,200 to receive the chemotherapy her doctor prescribed. I sat in shock as my mother had to pull out a credit card to pay for her treatment yesterday. I ask you, is making a Canadian citizen spend her retirement fund and go into debt to receive healthcare what you believe in? Is that the Canada that you have been elected to serve?
If not, I implore you to raise this issue in the House of Commons. Demand that approved chemotherapy drugs be approved across the country and without discrimination. Demand that doctors be able to design the best treatment protocols for their patients using approved drugs, without bureaucratic intervention that could cost Canadians, like my mother, their lives.