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This article was published 9/5/2019 (816 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A 42-year-old Winnipeg woman with Stage 4 breast cancer is out of pocket $7,000 and counting because the drug her oncologist has prescribed is not covered by Pharmacare.
Jennette Heinrichs, who is on long-term disability, has had to sell her car and cut other costs in order to pay for her lifesaving treatment.
She has been told fulvestrant — a hormonal treatment for advanced breast cancer — is on a list of medications awaiting approval from the province, but she doesn't know when, or if, it will be covered.
"It's very stressful," Heinrichs said Thursday. "It just feels as though I'm caught in a bureaucratic crack in the system. It's very frustrating."
She said she's spoken with officials at Pharmacare, the province, and CancerCare Manitoba about possible funding she could receive to offset the high costs of treatment. But there doesn't seem to be anything available.
"There needs to be some kind of fund that helps people that are caught in this kind of situation," she said in an interview.
Heinrichs contacted the Manitoba Liberals, who took up her cause Thursday.
"She's essentially being bankrupted by the costs of the medication," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont told reporters.
"If we can afford a PST cut that is going to cost us $300 million (per year) and we can't afford to pay for people's lifesaving drugs, I find that hard to swallow."
Heinrichs said fulvestrant by itself has limited use but it is now available in combination with another drug — also not covered by the provincial drug program but which is being offered for free, for now, by the pharmaceutical company.
According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, fulvestrant, sold under the brand name Faslodex, is not yet covered by any province.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said he has spoken with the head of CancerCare Manitoba about the drug. He said he's been told there are fewer than 100 persons in the province currently looking to access it.
Friesen said he is mindful some Manitobans "face tremendous challenges trying to pay for prescriptions," and discussions are underway to list certain high-cost drugs, such as fulvestrant, for coverage. He said he could not say anything more, so as not to imperil negotiations with pharmaceutical companies.
He said he hoped he would have more to say about fulvestrant "quite soon."
A spokeswoman for CancerCare said manufacturer AstraZeneca Canada Inc. had previously offered a special access program to cover the drug's costs. The drug maker closed entry to the program in January 2018, although 17 patients who were enrolled at the time continue to benefit from it.
The CancerCare spokeswoman said "less than five patients" have received the drug since the access program was closed.
Meanwhile, Lamont did not lay all responsibility for helping patients such as Heinrichs at the feet of the Pallister government.
He said Ottawa must step up by instituting a national pharmacare program that would reduce drug prices. Lamont also blamed national regulators for extending patent protection for fulvestrant, preventing a generic equivalent from being produced.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.