Louise Concepcion has Stage 4 colorectal cancer, with cell growth already spreading to her lungs. She accepts that she’s dying but before that happens, she hopes that she and other patients would still get the chance to obtain affordable medication.
That’s why she supports the plan of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. to apply for the 340B Drug Pricing Program since it would help CNMI patients, especially the middle class, to afford the medicines they need.
CHCC chief executive officer Esther Muna, in a report on the Saipan Tribune, said the hospital could enjoy low-cost medicine, improved quality care, and possible profit generation if the hospital controls the outpatient pharmacy.
The 340B program under the federal government was created in 1992, requiring drug manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to provide outpatient medicines to eligible healthcare groups and other entities at a much-reduced cost.
Concepcion, who is now 58 years old, is a retired procurement officer of the CNMI Public School System and lives solely on her monthly pension. She believes the hospital could qualify for the program, but politics gets in the way.
“The 340B is a good program, that’s why I don’t understand some people. It is a drug-pricing program that provides 20 to 50 percent discount on manufactured medicines. Why is the program not implemented here when it was in 1992 when the program started?” Concepcion told Saipan Tribune.
“The program began in 1992. Why not implement it here? It is worth trying but they are not trying at all. The hospital could have qualified but there are some political issues. Something is wrong.”
She added that she’s trying to start a petition but her declining health prevents her. “The territories are included, for those who would qualify. But if I don’t get my medication in a timely manner, everyday [cancer cells] would multiply.”
Concepcion also reacted to the statement of Sen. Teresita Santos (R-Rota), who does not support CHCC’s plan to take over the pharmacy’s operations from PHI Pharmacy, whose lease at the Commonwealth Health Center would expire in August this year.
“It broke my heart what Sen. Santos said. It really hurts me when Sen. Santos said that [the hospital’s] funds should be focused on toilet tissues, pillowcases, and bed sheets. What good is that when people are dying,” she added.
She pointed out that cancer is not a cheap disease and she could have save a lot if 340B is implemented here. The doctor has put her on Stivarga, an oral chemotherapy pill that costs $6,000 for a supply that lasts only 21 days.
“In 2015, the cost of chemotherapy per treatment, one cycle, is $20,000 and sometimes I need to have six cycles. I don’t make $120,000 a year. You see how expensive it is? People don’t want to get cancer and that’s the reason why 340B needs to come in,” said Concepcion.
She said healthcare is supposed to either prevent diseases or save and extend lives. “It really hurts me when people or public officials are saying that. My life now is too short. How many deaths or people like me would be sacrificed for this? The 340B program is not only for poor people, it is for all, even for people who fall between the cracks.”
“I’m not wealthy but I’m not poor. I’m from a middle income earning family. I’m retired, living on pension. You tell me my life is not important? That’s why I’m asking [government officials], please support the hospital. Is the private sector more important than people’s lives?”
Concepcion believes she could have gotten the medicines she needs at a cheaper price if the 340B program was implemented years ago. “I’m dying and I have nothing to lose. If 340B could have come here, I could have afforded my medicines at a cheaper price. I don’t qualify for Medicaid.”
“Allow CHCC to apply. Things have changed and people made mistakes before. But please allow them to make the changes and to improve. Allow me and other patients to have affordable medication.”