September 17th 2009, 4:31pm
I am a proud Canadian, and I defend our health care system with the kind of lunatic ferocity that cowers tea-partying town hall hecklers – and yet today at the hospital I actually turned to my husband and uttered the words “Thank God you have such great insurance.”
Blasphemy, I know.
But we went in for my treatment this morning only to find out that the targeted therapy (Lapanitib, aka Tykerb) and the chemo that must be taken in conjunction with it (Capecitabine, aka Xeloda) are not covered by OHIP. Yes, I am serious. No, I have no idea why not. This is breast cancer for god’s sake, not breast augmentation.
We were told the approval process for assisted coverage could take several days, which would mean a fourth consecutive week without any treatment whatsoever. All I could think of was how much my cancer managed to spread in the six-week period between CT scans while I was getting the clinical trial drug + Herceptin combo. No cancer-fighting agents whatsoever for four weeks?? And this squeaky-toy cough of mine worsening all the time? You could say I was a little freaked out.
We were in fact wild-eyed and confused, and the telephone calls were flying fast and furious between the drug company case managers, the hospital social worker, my husband, and his (really, incredibly helpful) insurance people. Being Canadian, I spent none of my time trying to figure out who should be blamed, sued and/or fired for this additional delay in my treatment, and all of my time trying to figure out how to fix it. While also freaking out.
Luckily, all parties seemed hell-bent on achieving the same goal – namely, getting me the treatment, stat – and as a result, the drugs are being delivered to my home tonight. The total cost to us after the 90% coverage of my husband’s excellent drug plan & the drug companies’ “compassionate coverage” plans is still a few hundred dollars a month, but this is ok compared to the several thousand a month we were facing at around 10 a.m. this morning. And I should note that even if we didn’t have an insurance plan, there are systems in place to ensure no patient is denied treatment — it just takes a few days.
Still, this experience has shaved a little smugness off my pride in our universal health care system, and has shaken my confidence that I will always have timely and free access to the treatments I need. This confidence, really, that is every Canadian child’s birthright, every Canadian immigrant’s landing-right, and should be everyone’s human right too.
So our system isn’t perfect, but I haven’t given up the faith completely: I have access to treatment today and we didn’t have to sell the house to get it. That’s an outcome I can live with. Literally.