When a hospital pharmacist told Terry Tuttle that his co-pay would be $3,000 a month, he thought his renal cell carcinoma might get him at last.
Surgery eliminated all trace of the disease when it first appeared in 2002. Radio frequency ablation did the same when the cancer came back on his remaining kidney in 2008. But Tuttle saw no hope of buying the Sutent (sunitinib) his doctor prescribed when the disease spread and appeared on his pancreas last year.
Then Pfizer offered to give him the drug for free.
“My doctor had sent me to Cancer Services a local (patient advocate), saying that if there was help to be found, they’d find it,” says Tuttle, a 73-year-old grandfather of two who lives in central North Carolina. “I filled out a couple forms, gave them a copy of my tax returns, and they started looking. The whole process took 30 or 40 minutes. About a week later, I got the call from Pfizer.
”Tuttle has been receiving Sutent for nearly 18 months and appears to be responding. His most recent scan showed the tumor to be just half its original size.
The gift reversed Tuttle’s negative view of big health care companies, formed when his insurer’s refusal to pay for ablation nearly bankrupted him. Now he has more time to do the things he loves best. “I meet up with a few of my friends every day at the local McDonald’s for some coffee and conversation,” says Tuttle, who also looks after the houses of three infirm neighbors. “I’ve gotten very into framing and matting pictures over the past couple years, but my main joy is spending time with my family, which I do at least once a week and often more.”
Even though escalating medical costs that are increasingly being driven by rising costs of complex medications remains a big problem, there are ways to help some patients.