Cancer drugs: O'Byrne's plea to Plibersek

STATE Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne has written to her federal counterpart Tanya Plibersek urging her to reverse a decision to cut subsidies for a major cancer drug.

"Ms O'Byrne has asked Ms Plibersek to find a solution that will support the provision of chemotherapy to cancer patients in the private system," a spokesman for Ms O'Byrne said.

Ms O'Byrne yesterday joined health ministers and key industry players from across the country asking Ms Plibersek to rethink the decision on the breast cancer drug.

They fear that the decision to cut subsidies for the chemotherapy drug will lift the cost of other cancer treatments that were cross- subsidised from it.

The decision to cut the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme subsidy paid for the drug Docetaxel by 71 per cent came into effect on December 1.

The Australian Private Hospitals Association has already warned that thousands of cancer patients could see their chemotherapy costs soar, with chemotherapy infusions predicted to rise by $100 each time.

The Tasmanian Health Department is working with state chemotherapy service providers to develop a contingency plan for private cancer patients, Ms O'Byrne's spokesman said.

"This contingency will see the state government provide support to treatment providers as a short-term measure to enable chemotherapy treatments to continue while negotiations with the federal government progress," he said.

National cancer advocacy group chairman Ian Roos said that he was worried that regional Australians living with cancer would be the hardest hit if an urgent resolution to the matter was not found.

Medical Oncology Group of Australia chairman Peter Richardson urged the federal government to act immediately to reverse its decision.

He was worried that private hospitals and clinics would not be able to sustain the new higher costs of chemotherapy drugs, which would mean an influx of cancer patients to the already over-stretched public hospital system.

Ms Plibersek has said that she would look into the cost of chemotherapy services to make sure that prices were not too high.

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