Paul Cherry was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013. Photo / Andrew Warner
Five thousand and five hundred dollars every 28 days – more than $200,000 so far.
That is how much Pāpāmoa’s Paul Cherry has spent on a drug he says is helping him fight his “incurable” prostate cancer diagnosis.
Now he is calling for GST to be removed from the price of cancer medications that are not publicly funded.
The 76-year-old is paying for a drug called Enzalutamide out of his own pocket because it is not publicly funded.
He says there are other treatment options available, but Enzalutamide would allow him to have “a better quality of life for a longer time”.
To date, he has spent $212,000.
Cherry acknowledged he was in a fortunate position to pay for the drug but said he could only afford the treatment for another two years. After that, he would start chemotherapy which would be the “final part of the journey”.
“Taking the GST off Enzalutamide would give me another two months of treatment. Part-funding of even $1000 would give me almost two-and-a-half months extra.
“It would make all the difference.”
However, a spokesperson for the Minister of Finance says there are no plans to make changes to GST and there are better ways the Government can help target need.
Meanwhile, Pharmac says it is assessing a funding application for enzalutamide and it was recommended to be funded with “high priority” by its Cancer Treatments Advisory Committee in November 2021.
The latest figures available from the Ministry of Health showed that 701 people died from prostate cancer and 4176 people were diagnosed in New Zealand in 2018.
After Cherry was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013, he had his prostate cut out and underwent radiation.
He was regularly monitored for the level of PSA in his blood. PSA is a protein made by the prostate. Higher than normal levels could occur when there is a problem with the prostate, the Health Navigator New Zealand website said.
In 2019, there was a “significant” increase in his PSA.
“Then we went immediately into damage control.”
Cherry started taking Zoladex – a three-monthly jab in the stomach that leaves a little capsule and administers the drug over time – which is Government-funded.
“That hormone Zoladex brought my PSA down to … undetectable.”
However, his oncologist “highly recommended” one of three other options – chemotherapy, a cheaper treatment that came with more side effects or Enzalutamide.
Cherry asked his oncologist how much time Enzalutamide would buy him. He was told he would have a “far longer, comforting standard of health than if you don’t take it”.
He chose to pay for Enzalutamide.
“I know I’m getting on there, 76, but I still feel I’ve got everything going for me. I’ve got a sound mind and I’m mobile … I’m really lucky.”
But Cherry has questioned charging GST on cancer medications that are not publicly funded.
“If people who are legitimately paying for drugs [that] could help them to keep a quality of life, is it right that we should be charged GST?”
A spokesperson for the Minister of Finance said there were no plans to make changes to GST to allow more exemptions.
“GST exemptions are complex, create distortions and would take some time to implement.
“There are better ways that the Government can use to help target need. In Budget 2022 we made the largest single contribution to Pharmac’s Medicines budget ever, [bringing] total funding to $1.2 billion.
“While Pharmac independently make decisions on the medicines that are funded, the Government will continue to invest heavily in the health of New Zealanders.”
Prostate Cancer Foundation chief executive Peter Dickens said with limited funded treatment options in New Zealand, many with prostate cancer were faced with the stark reality of finding money for treatment or facing a “significantly reduced” survival rate.
“Without treatment, the prognosis is likely to be poor. Treatments that are readily available in Australia and other OECD countries are simply not being subsidised here.”
Enzalutamide provided “significant survival and quality of life gains” and in his view it was a “travesty” that New Zealand men could not access it.
“Paul is in the fortunate position of being able to fund his treatment for now, but many prostate cancer patients are not as fortunate and are dying earlier as a result.”
Pharmac director of operations Lisa Williams said it was assessing a funding application for enzalutamide for treating prostate cancer.
In November 2021, its Cancer Treatments Advisory Committee recommended enzalutamide be funded with “high priority” for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, for patients who were unable to take abiraterone – another funded medicine for prostate cancer.
The next step was for Pharmac to rank the treatment as an option for investment.
“Unlike other countries, Pharmac works within a fixed budget, which means that we need to make difficult choices about which items to fund within the available budget.”
It could not provide a definitive timeframe for if or when enzalutamide would be funded, she said.
“Our job at Pharmac is to assess and prioritise which treatments will deliver the best possible health outcomes for New Zealanders from the budget we have available.”
In May 2022, the Government announced a $191 million budget increase over 2022/23 and 2023/24 for Pharmac’s spending on pharmaceuticals.
“We are currently working our way through our options for investment list, negotiating agreements with suppliers.
“We anticipate funding many more products over the coming 12 to 24 months, which should include more cancer treatments.”
Williams said it understood New Zealanders wanted medicines to be available as quickly as possible.
“It is important for us to hear from Kiwis who are affected by ill-health when assessing a medicine to help us understand the impact funding cancer treatments would have.”
This month is Blue September which is the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s primary fundraising event. To donate, visit the Blue September website.