After my last post about “the gift of cancer” I must say that CLL has felt much less like a gift this month.
Joining the ranks of those with “a diagnosis” has given me a some insight into what our patients face all the time.
Recently, I received my second dose of humility. I capped off a truly exhausting week in the hospital with a routine lab follow-up.
The last day of my 85-hour week I had my CBC checked, and my platelets dropped from the 100s to the 30s.
My first reaction was denial. Lab error.
Unfortunately, they dropped further the next day and I realized that the little red bumps on my legs weren’t some skin reaction, but petechiae. Bummer. Turns out that in addition to the 2% of people diagnosed with CLL under age 40, I also joined the 20% who develop idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP).
The treatment of choice for ITP is prednisone 1mg/kg. So after a visit with my oncologist, I started 80mg of prednisone.
I realized with more than a little chagrin that I have a double standard about therapeutics. I was surprised at how much I despise being on prednisone.
I had never taken it before, and I would guess that I prescribe it every week, if not every day, that I work in the hospital. I have always felt that prednisone is fine for my patients to take.
Steroids work to help clear up that asthma flare, quickly improve that gout pain, or even help with a burst of energy in the last days or weeks of life for a terminal patient.
But for me? No thank you.
Researchers at USC recently published a study designed to find out how much people are willing to pay for better drug coverage from their health insurance plan. The question they posed to the general public was straightforward: How much extra money would you pay per month for a health insurance plan that would pay for “specialty drugs” if you need them?
Specialty drugs are expensive new treatments for diseases like leukemia, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. These drugs often cost tens of thousands of dollars, and in some cases even run into six figures per patient. But these high costs can be accompanied by significant benefit. Gleevec for example can dramatically increase life expectancy for people with otherwise fatal leukemia.
Keep in mind that not only are specialty drugs expensive but they are being used with increasing frequency. According to the USC team, 3 out of 100 people in the United States will use at least one specialty drug in the following year.
How much would you pay to make sure you aren’t responsible to pay for these drugs out of pocket? Would you be willing to give your insurance company an extra $5 per month? $10? Maybe even $20?
The USC team found that, on average, people were willing to spend around $13 extra per month to make sure their health insurance plans cover such specialty drugs. (The study was published in the April issue of Health Affairs, and was led by John Romney.) To put that into perspective, the actuarial cost of such coverage—how much insurance companies would expect to spend per person if everyone obtained such coverage—is around $5 per month.