Sunburn and Keytruda: Update

There is some big news in the insurance world of late — no, don’t sigh, the news is great and well worth sharing. You would have read in our May blog, 'Sunburn and Keytruda', about the potential risks of not being covered for non-Pharmac drugs. In a nutshell, we highlighted that Kiwis with aggressive melanoma were in a catch 22 in that there appeared to be a new and promising drug (Pembrolizumab) available, but with such prohibitive costs that the drug may as well have been given away free with patient pick up on the moon. As ever, we advised to always be aware of your policies, consider non-Pharmac cover, and to slip, slop and slap that sunscreen on.

This week, however, in a positive step forward, Pharmac has finally released its proposal to fund Keytruda treatment from 1 September. Although this isn’t locked in, this treatment, combined with the recently funded rival cancer treatment drug, Opdivo, means sufferers of melanoma will have not one but two drugs available to help their t-cells do valiant battle against melanoma. And although both drugs are similarly effective, they do have slightly different profiles when it comes to side effects, so having two treatments available will provide options for melanoma sufferers and medical professionals.

But let’s not forget, the reason this is such a big deal, not just for the insurance industry, but for all New Zealanders, is the startlingly high rate of melanoma in New Zealand. We now have the greatest rate of skin cancer in the world, recently taking the ignominy from Australia.

But why the hold up? There’s no question, this is a great leap forward for New Zealand, but there are people who have been suffering while negotiations took place to secure the best commercial deal. And, of course that’s important, yes, let’s make it worth our Kiwi dollar’s while, but this indecision has been at the cost of New Zealand lives, dying New Zealanders who have been kept in the dark while bargaining took place.

The process needs improvement, and not just for the sake of those that have been impacted by the wait for Keytruda, for the sake of all Kiwis. If Jerry or Janet Doe develop condition X and there are advances in the medical world with new miracle drug Y coming onto the scene, the system that manages treatment and drug provisions should do the utmost to ensure there is access to these possible medical advancements. Food for thought.

It’s a crazy world out there and Rees-Thomas Financial Services always wants to promote industry awareness, so if you have any questions about your policies please don’t hesitate to make contact to discuss. No obligations.


Samuel Rees-Thomas