Australia has the second highest rate of malignant mesothelioma in the world. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the most obvious is that between the 1950s and 1970s, it had the highest per capita rate of asbestos use in the world. Roughly 700 Australians die of the asbestos-related disease each year, yet mesothelioma victims say that their government is failing them in one critical area: providing access to the immunotherapy drug Keytruda at the same reduced rate that has been made available to those diagnosed with melanoma and with lung cancer.
Mesothelioma victim Graham Clarke is a perfect (and vocal) example of mesothelioma victims who feel they are being ignored. Clarke is 71 years old, and has been diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. He’s been given little chance of living to see the end of the year, but the one thing that offers home is the immunotherapy drug Keytruda, which has proven effective in holding the illness at bay in others. Unfortunately, Keytruda is extremely expensive – at $6,000 per treatment with three treatments representing a complete course, it is far too expensive for most people to be able to afford. In Australia, a government agency called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme has provided this life-saving drug to other cancer patients at the reduced price of just $40 per dose, but that benefit was originally only available to those diagnosed with melanoma. This week mesothelioma victims were excited when they learned that the benefit had been extended to include people diagnosed with lung cancer, then devastated when they learned that the extension did not include mesothelioma.
Speaking of his own reaction, the mesothelioma victim said, “What gets me is that I was getting calls from family and friends, saying ‘Isn’t this great? You’ll get it on the PBS’! But no, you don’t, because it isn’t your typical lung cancer.” The government’s failure to include the benefit for mesothelioma victims is the difference between $18,000 for three treatments and $120. As a result, he’s written to the country’s health minister, saying, “My question to you is this. When I can no longer afford to pay for my Keytruda treatment which will be sooner rather than later and therefore will not be able to get said treatment why should I be denied the chance to obtain Keytruda through the PBS. The only other alternative I have then is to die. I, along with other sufferers of Mesothelioma have a right to live and to obtain our treatment of Keytruda on the PBS. Please, can you make this happen?” For his part, the health minister explains that there is insufficient data available to include mesothelioma in the payment scheme. The Asbestos Disease Support Society is calling on the government to “show some compassion” and extend the benefit to mesothelioma victims.
In the United States, there are numerous ways for mesothelioma victims to get assistance with paying for medicine and medical bills. For information on the resources available to you, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.