10 Dec 2008

Government announces 12-month Herceptin funding

5:02 pm on 10 December 2008

The Government has announced it will fund a full 12 months of the breast cancer drug Herceptin.

The National Party promised during the election campaign that if it became the Government it would bypass drug-buying agency Pharmac and fund a full year of the costly drug, rather than just nine weeks.

Pharmac currently funds Herceptin for nine weeks, and has been under pressure from lobby groups to fund a longer course.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government will fully fund the cost of Herceptin for women seeking treatment in the public system, from when the Government was sworn in on 19 November.

Women who have had treatment since that time in the private system will be able to be reimbursed, but private patients will have to move into the public system to continue to qualify for fully subsidised Herceptin.

The move does not require a law change. Radio New Zealand's health correspondent reports that Ministry of Health has a contract with drug supplier Roche.

About 300 women a year are deemed to need Herceptin. The cost is not being revealed, however Radio New Zealand's health correspondent says it is well within the expected expenditure of $27 million over three years.

District Health Boards, which administer Herceptin treatement, will be reimbursed and given an extra $3 million a year to help meet their costs.

The money will come from the extra $180 million the National-led Government is making available for medicines over three years.

Breast cancer groups 'delighted'

Breast cancer groups say they are delighted with the Government's new scheme to fund Herceptin.

Chris Walsh, one of eight women who sued Pharmac over its refusal to fund a longer course of the treatment, says the new National-led Government has done everything right.

"I'm absolutely overjoyed. There seems to be a real kind of true intention there of making it available and accessible easily for women."

Ms Walsh says the decision will remove a lot of stress from women who had to do fundraising to pay for their treatment.