Shane Reti's plan to make treatment affordable for cancer patients

By Whatitiri Te Wake

The National Party is calling for a law change that will see unfunded chemotherapy drugs administered by district health boards and covering the cost rather than patients resorting to expensive private clinics.

“At the moment cancer medicines not funded by Pharmac can only be administered in expensive private cancer facilities at a further cost to the patient” National deputy leader and health spokesman Dr Shane Reti said.

According to the New Zealand Cancer Action Plan 2019–2029, Māori are 20%  more likely to get cancer than non-Māori, and nearly twice as likely as non-Māori to die from cancer

Dr Reti says this is an issue of inequity that needs addressing.

“Māori particularly are at risk of lung cancer because of their propensity to smoke. It turns out one of the key chemo medicines for lung cancer is Keytruda, which is not funded by Pharmac for that purpose.

“A real case there where Māori with a particular cancer are struggling with a medicine that Pharmac won't fund.”

 Back in February Associate Health Minister Māori Peeni Henare said with the current numbers of Māori diagnosed with cancer, the government was aware of the challenges that lay ahead of it.

“Ko te aronga nui, ko ngā mahi whakatikatika i te ao hauora me ona manatū katoa ki roto o Aotearoa, koia te aronga nui o tenei kāwanatanga i tenei wā tonu”.

(The main aim is to get all health departments in order - across the country. That's the main focus)

Upped Pharmac budget

Health Ministers weren't available for an on-screen interview today, but in a statement the government said in their first term it invested $60 million to Pharmac that funded five additional cancer medicines.

“Since 2017 we have increased the Pharmac budget by over 20%, benefiting more than 200,000 New Zealanders through the public health system, and we have committed to increasing drug funding by a further $200 million this term. We also established the Cancer Control Agency and invested in 12 new cancer radiation treatment machines while rolling out the National Bowel Screening Programme to 11 district health boards.”

Reti is keen to get his private member's bill out of the ballot box and before the House, something he says he’s had conversations about with different members of the House.

“The goal here is for 61 backbench MPs say 'this is worth discussing' in which case it would be lifted out of the ballot box and sent to select committee. I'd like cancer people to be able to tell their story to what a difference this would make,” he said.

However, the government doesn’t seem keen, in a statement saying the proposed bill will “create further inequity in the system.”

“Reti’s bill would mean that people who are wealthy enough to fund their own currently unfunded cancer treatments would then take up space in the public health system that would otherwise go to patients whose cancer treatment is publicly funded."