10 Jun 2024

Government prioritising potholes over patients, cancer battler says

6:44 pm on 10 June 2024
Chemotherapy treatment for cancer

A life-extending cancer drug which the government earlier promised to fund costs about $50,000 for six-cycles of treatment. Photo: 123RF

A cancer patient says the prime minister will never know the reality of those relying on life-extending or life-saving cancer drugs.

The government promised to fund 13 new cancer drugs at the election, but its promise was not fulfilled on Budget Day.

Richard - who has bowel cancer - is now paying out nearly $50,000 of his own money to pay for a life-extending drug - one of those the pime minister had promised to fund.

He told Checkpoint the coalition government had prioritised potholes over patients

"If I am on a hearse driving to the crematorium, at least there won't be any potholes on the road."

The Auckland man said he had been forced to battle the bank to self-fund a targeted drug called Cetuximab, alongside state-funded chemotherapy.

Cetuximab is not currently funded by drug agency Pharmac, but Richard's oncologist told him the combination might give him a 50 percent chance of surviving five years.

"They suggested that if I were to self-fund the targeted drug, which ironically is part of the National Party's list of potentially funded drugs, then that would improve my life expectancy."

Cetuximab must be administered in a private hospital on a pay-as-you-go basis, with the cost per fortnight being about $8500.

The hospital demands each bill be paid in advance before they are willing to administer the next round of therapy, as it is specifically mixed to each individual patient.

"The total cost over the six cycles of treatment would be around $50,000 as I have no medical insurance," he said.

"When you get a cancer diagnosis and are told you might have to spend $50,000, your brain says: 'Well actually, is my life worth $50,000?'.

"I could have a big funeral for that or I could leave that money for my children."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said last week his government would spend the $280 million on the 13 drugs it promised during the election campaign. He said an announcement would be made 'very shortly'.

"I know how people are feeling, I know how frustrated they feel about it, I know what cancer sufferers are going through,"

But Richard told Checkpoint: "He will only know how people are feeling when he has a timeline on his life."

He said he was in a vulnerable state of mind.

"I wasn't outraged, I was disappointed, sad and emotional."

'Cancer washing' and bank issues

Richard said after beginning the treatment and two cycles, he ran out of readily available funds but had a term deposit with the ANZ Bank maturing the following week.

"I approached the Queen St branch of the ANZ to see whether I could break my term deposit seven days early, in order to pay the outstanding drug bill and enable me to continue to receive my next round of drug therapy.

"I really wanted to have a private conversation with someone, rather than entertain those behind me in the queue with my cancer details."

He told Checkpoint the young teller initially hinted the bank might look compassionately at the predicament he was in.

"After punching a few keys into her terminal, however, she said there would be a break penalty," he said.

"This would mean I would lose a couple of thousand dollars, money I really needed."

Richard said he was not offered the chance to speak to anyone else from the ANZ customer services team.

"I expected more from the ANZ and its staff, especially as according to their website they support the Cancer Society and Dai Henwood is even their 'Cancer Ambassador'."

He said he respectfully filled out a survey, giving the lowest scores on the scale.

"You'd think if someone scores you the lowest possible score and details their cancer background in the score, then surely someone gets back to me, well they never did," he said.

Richard said the private hospital that was infusing his treatment later agreed to delay sending him the bill, allowing his term deposit to mature at the set date.

"From this experience it would seem that we have now moved from "green washing" to "cancer washing" whereby a company and indeed a new government, can use the vulnerability of cancer sufferers as part of a wider feelgood marketing or election campaign, but which in reality means very little," he said.

"It is painful seeing young people who might've had the chance to extend their lives."

Richard has been an ANZ customer for 40 years.

ANZ responded in a statement: "We sympathise with the difficult situation this customer was facing when trying to access their term deposit, and we're sorry for any additional stress caused."

The bank said it worked hard to support customers experiencing financial pressure, including those applying to access funds through the financial hardship process.

ANZ said there was a formal process it needs to follow for all hardship applications - it said customers who need early access to their money after investing in a term deposit can request an early withdrawal by giving 31 days notice.

It said in this case it appears some parts of the formal process were not followed as it would hope.

"We apologise again and we encourage the customer to contact us if they'd like to discuss this further."

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