Cancer patients could face drug cost hike

CANCER patients in regional areas getting chemotherapy transfusion at private hospitals could be hardest hit by a $100 increase on the cards for cancer treatment.

One of the most common chemotherapy drugs, called Docetaxel, is used to treat patients with cancers of the breast, prostate and lung.

The cost patients will pay for the drug was set to rise by more than 70% or about $100, on December 1, as the drug comes off its patent period.

While the government has not cut subsidies for the cost consumers pay for the drug, at the end of the patent period, the government stops paying the extra $2,800 above the market price for the drug.

The fall in extra government payments was part of a policy to encourage other generic drug brands to enter the market against the original patented producer.

The effect of the December change will be most felt in rural and regional areas, Cancer Council chief executive Ian Olver said on Wednesday.

Dr Olver said the jump in costs could hit cancer patients for about $100 for every intravenous treatment.

He said the majority of treatment providers in regional areas were actually private hospitals, which were unlikely to be able to cover the costs, estimated in the hundreds of millions for some hospitals.

"This could mean those private clinics might actually close their services if it's too expensive without the government's contribution," Dr Olver said.

"That could in turn lead to rural and regional patients being forced to go to larger cities, like the capitals, to get their treatment."

Dr Olver said the interim period between when the patent runs out for Docetaxel, and when a new player may, or may not, enter the chemotherapy treatment could not be estimated.

He said for a private company to enter the market, there would have to be enough sales volumes of the drug, but that any market adjustment would be "patchy".

Dr Olver said he had already been in touch with Health Minister Tanya Plibersek's office about the cost rise, and was given assurances the issue would be "considered".

Ms Plibersek's office yesterday released a statement which said the government was absolutely committed to providing drugs for cancer patients and there had been no budget cut.

The change, her office wrote, was a result of the government's April reforms to medicine price disclosure rules, which actually reduced the price of more than 1000 medicines.

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