GA Cancer Drug Shortage

If you rely on Taxol to treat your cancer, you may be in trouble. Several Georgia cancer facilities are reporting difficulty in obtaining some cancer drugs.

According to the FDA:


"We are continuing to see these increased numbers for shortages, especially for older sterile injectable drugs," said Valerie Jensen, director of the  FDA Drug Shortages Program. "These drugs are mainly used in hospitals and include cancer drugs, drugs needed for patients undergoing surgery and emergency drugs."

The reasons for the shortages vary. Some drug manufacturers are discontinuing older drugs and replacing them with newer ones, which are usually more profitable, according to the FDA. They are also recalling some drugs because of quality problems.



Dr. Bancroft Lesesne, chief executive officer and president of Georgia Cancer Specialists, said the drugs affected are most commonly used in breast, lung, lymphoma and colon cancer treatments. "There's a standard treatment we might recommend to a patient based on the disease and the stage," he said. "If the drugs aren't available we have to make substitutions. We think they're just as effective but you can never be quite sure."

"I don't see [the shortages] getting any better," he said. "One drug will become available and then there's a shortage of another. It's seems to be a moving target."

​This is a serious problem for Georgia cancer patients.

Many major medical plans sold in Georgia do NOT cover brand name drugs, including many of the popular cancer medications. If you own one of these plans from Aetna, Blue Cross, Golden Rule or other health insurance companies the time to change your coverage is now. Ask for a free, no obligation review of your existing coverage.

​Georgia Insurance Shop offers competitive health insurance rates in Georgia.

Critcal Illness

Is a critical illness policy a critical need for those with major medical health insurance in Georgia? What do critical illness plans cover? How much to they cost? Why would I want a critical illness policy?

What is covered by critical illness insurance?

  • blindness
  • cancer
  • coma
  • deafness
  • kidney failure
  • heart attack
  • loss of limb
  • major organ transplant
  • major burns
  • paralysis
  • stroke

Click here to view a benefit summary of the Assurant Critical Illness plan.

How much does a critical illness plan cost?

You can review benefits and rates for the Assurant critical illness plan by following the link and quoting supplemental coverage. If you like the plan you can apply online.

Why would I want a critical illness plan?

Your major medical plan does not cover all the bills. There are still deductibles, coinsurance and copay's to be paid. Also, you may miss time from work due to accident or illness. In addition to the medical bills you may get behind on your rent or mortgage, car payments, credit card bills and more.

Receiving a check for $5,000 to $100,000 may come in handy. Your critical illness insurance policy can be a supplement to savings or other disability benefits.

Check out benefits and pricing for a critical illness plan in Georgia.

Cancer Drug Shortage

Low cost, affordable cancer drugs may become a thing of the past. Margins on generics is so low there is little incentive to produce the low price medication. This is leading to a short supply of commonly used drugs.

U.S. cancer drugs shortage has doctors scrambling

Tue, Jun 7 2011

By Debra Sherman and Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Cancer medicines desperately needed by sick children and adults are in short supply, undermining the ability of U.S. doctors to administer treatments, top oncologists warned this week.

Many drugs are scarce because there is no incentive for drugmakers to manufacture low-cost generics, which have slim profit margins for pharmaceutical companies. Doctors do not expect that equation to change any time soon, making them scramble to find acceptable alternatives, or to ration or delay treatment when they cannot.

Generic chemotherapy drugs are in particularly tight supply at the nation's hospitals, including mainstay cancer treatments such as cisplatin, doxorubicin, cytarabine and leucovorin.

"These are chestnuts. These are not old-fashioned drugs. They remain incredibly important drugs which serve as the backbone for treating many of the most common and treatable cancers," said Dr. Robert Mayer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and a past president of American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) which held its annual meeting in Chicago this week.

Cisplatin is used to treat testicular, bladder and ovarian cancers that have spread. The drug, also used to treat lung cancers, is sold under multiple brand names, originally by Bristol-Myers Squibb. A generic form is sold by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, among others.

Doxorubicin, also available under multiple brands and as a generic from Teva and others, is used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, acute leukemias and other cancers.

Cytarabine, produced by Hospira Inc and others, is used to treat certain types of leukemia. Leucovorin, also sold by Teva, is used along with certain chemotherapy drugs to treat colorectal, head and neck and other cancers.

Dr. Michael Link, a pediatric oncologist at the Mayo Clinic and current ASCO president, called it a disheartening crisis.

"Here we have highly effective drugs, they've been shown they work and to think we don't have them available is almost unconscionable," Link said. "We don't see an end in sight."

In some cases, doctors can substitute another drug for one that is in short supply.

"It's still uncomfortable to say that this is ideally what we'd like to do, but unfortunately we don't have it," Link said. "You can imagine the conversation and I'm sure they're going on all over — doctors have to tell their patients or their patients' parents that we can't give them the proven drug because we don't have it."


For some of these medicines in short supply, there may not be acceptable alternatives.

"One could say that substituting Pepsi for Coca-Cola doesn't make a difference. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn't," Mayer said. "But more often it might be substituting 7-UP for Coca-Cola, and that might make a difference."

Leucovorin, a form of folic acid that is used to enhance the effectiveness of other chemotherapy drugs, is one example.

"This is the one that I hear the most about from my colleagues. If you don't have it, you just have to omit it. It certainly isn't in the best interest of patients. It is a very inexpensive drug," Mayer said.

Sophia Parhas, a pharmacy manager at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said if there is a shortage of the generic, the hospital will often buy the branded product.

"We make some substitutions … so doctors will go back and forth between daunorubicin and doxorubicin, depending upon which one is short," she said.

Another option is for doctors to flip the order that drugs are given depending on the supply situation. Allen Vaida, executive vice president of the Institute for Safe Medical Practices, which has been tracking the shortage, said doctors have also been forced to delay or ration treatments.

"Patients are started on a therapy and they may go through four or five or six cycles. When a drug becomes short, your cycle may be coming up a month later than planned," he said.

"Oncologists, especially in major cancer centers, are in a quandary. 'Do I start my patient on therapy? Do I save what I have for patients who started two cycles ago?'"

Dr. Richard Schilsky, cancer specialist at the University of Chicago and a past ASCO president, said the shortages have been going on for about nine months with no sign of abating.

"When you talk to the drug companies, they say there are manufacturing problems or they are taking plants offline and then it takes a while to get them back up," he said.

"They point the finger at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), saying the FDA is under-resourced and they can't get plants inspected to allow resumption of drug production. The drug suppliers are in the middle of this as well," he said.

But underlying all of this, he said, is a dearth of financial incentive to make the lower-cost cancer drugs, especially when new cancer drugs command huge premium prices.

"The return on investment of manufacturing generic drugs is pretty low. If something goes wrong, it may be that some manufacturers decide to pull out rather than fix the problem."

Hospira spokesman Dan Rosenberg said shortages arise for many reasons — capacity constraints, commodity shortfalls, or when a competitor withdraws its product for some reason or when competitors have shortfalls. It is not always possible for Hospira to ramp up production that quickly, Rosenberg said.

"We are doing everything we can to ensure access to these products for clinicians and patients," he said. "Often, we continue manufacturing products at a loss because we realize there is a critical medical need and we are the only company that provides the medication."

A Teva spokesman said its California plant that makes injectable drugs, which was closed last year due to quality issues, is now back up. But the plant will not reach full capacity until the end of this year.

To address the shortages, U.S. senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Robert Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, introduced a bill in February that would make drug companies inform the FDA about supply problems or plans to stop making a drug. The FDA would then have time to work with other suppliers to make the drugs or arrange for imports.

"That is a canary in the coal mine," Schilsky said. "It doesn't really resolve the fundamental problem."


This is a problem that is not going away any time soon.


Is Cash Cancer and Critical Illness Insurance a Good Idea?

Does it make sense to buy supplemental insurance such as critical illness and cash cancer plans in Georgia? Doesn't a good health insurance plan pay most medical bills?

This short video explains how a Georgia cash cancer and critical illness policy can work for you.


At one time I thought these plans were mostly junk. Then I received this note from a dear friend.

Debbie was a single mom, struggling to make ends meet.

This year in April I will celebrate my 48th birthday (and yes I admit it). I will also celebrate my 13th year surviving cancer! Yeah!

13 years ago I did not own a cash cancer and critical Illness policy, but today I do through my group benefits!

If I had owned a policy like this before, I would have received $30,000 to help support my family of 6 people. At the time, I had to quit my job as a waitress because I couldn't lift the trays with my arm after having lymph node removal in my arm pit. I underwent chemo and radiation that April that took me out of work for 6 months before I could actually find another job.

I share this with you today not so you can feel sorry for me, but to illustrate how important these type of policies are.

For as little as $2 per day I could have had a plan that would have replaced my lost income for 6 months. Having a cash cancer and critical illness plan would have made the difference in struggling to get by and removing the worry of how I was going to pay my bills.

Affordable Premiums

A 34 year old woman such as Debbie can get a plan with a $25,000 cash benefit for less than a dollar a day in premiums.

You may select benefit amounts from $5,000 to $50,000.

Ask the professionals at Georgia Insurance Shop for a quote on a Georgia  cash cancer and critical illness plan for you.



Prostate Cancer

Will the government decide your prostate cancer treatment is too expensive? Research indicates some cancer treatments add up to $350 million to the nation's health care bill. At what point will Medicare, Medicaid and other government run programs decide saving your life is just too expensive? When that happens will private insurance be far behind? The answers may surprise you.

You Never Know What the Day Will Bring

This arrived a short while ago and I decided to share it. No one knows when their health will change.

Everything happens for a reason.

God has a plan for me – I just wish His plan didn't include cancer.

On the first of the year, we discovered a lump on the left side of my neck. After a failed ten day regimen of antibiotics, a CT scan was done on the February 25 which indicated three tumors. Of course, this prompted an immediate biopsy the next day that ultimately indicated the malignancy – squamous cell carcinoma. The doctors didn't know where these tumors came from, an "unknown primary" as they call it.

Well, it seems that not only do I have squamous cell carcinoma in my neck, I also have colon cancer. (I know, it's a bad joke – a pain in the ass and a pain in the neck…) In a completely unrelated preventive test, my GI did a colonoscopy on March 8 and removed six polyps, one of which turned out to be malignant. I have a fraternity brother from Emory who is an oncology surgeon at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory Healthcare. Charlie has "fast-tracked" me with the best physicians there in all the pertinent areas: ENT, Radiation Oncology, and Surgery. I am fortunate to have such a good friend – we have truly felt like the red carpet has been laid down for us. On March 16, we had to change our original strategy to now include the colon cancer with my other cancer therapy. Last Friday the 18th, I had surgery with the ENT who discovered the "primary" of my neck cancer, the left tonsil, and removed it. This will enable the radiation to be more precise with its targeting. While under anesthesia, Charlie installed a feeding tube or "peg" that will be needed to ensure that I get nourishment when my throat is too sore from the radiation to swallow food. And to complete the day, for the third surgery he also removed the cancerous section in my colon/rectum area.

Emory has what I call "Tumor Talk" on every Tuesday where the entire oncology department discusses their respective cases. I meet next with my oncologist this Wednesday to implement their strategy. At the moment, my lead oncologist feels that we need to begin with radiation to reduce my neck cancer. I'll have the spot radiation for five days a week for seven consecutive weeks. Chemotherapy will run concurrently but for only three weeks.

At first glance, it seems like another terrible event. In the words of Lou Gehrig, "today, I feel like the luckiest man on the face of this earth". Thankfully, I finally stepped up and had the colonoscopy. Had I waited even two or three years, my GI said that I might have "lost my rectum and be forced to poop in a bag for the rest of my life". This way, we caught it early and we can treat it at the same time as the other cancer. If even done next year, I would not want to face another bout with chemo, radiation, and surgery.

Prognosis is good, even if the next several months are not. Regardless, I'm blessed to have a wonderful medical team, caring and supportive friends and family, and, if I do say so myself, a sense of humor about it all and a positive attitude.

I'll be back in touch as the process continues.

He is one of the most positive, upbeat people I know. I will support him through this in my prayers and any way I can.

About That PCIP Coverage . . .

A new site is up giving more information on PCIP, the Obamapool for those who cannot obtain health insurance and can prove it. This site has been established by the administrator of the taxpayer funded health insurance plan for those who are otherwise uninsurable in the private market.

To participate in PCIP, you must have a pre-existing medical condition that precludes you from obtaining medically underwritten health insurance. You must have a denial letter from a health insurance company that proves you are uninsurable and, you must not have had health insurance in the last 6 months. If you have health insurance, such as Medicaid or COBRA, and are losing those benefits you must go without coverage for 6 months before you can apply for PCIP.

So how good is this Obamapool plan any way?

The benefits summary details the following:

  • No benefits are payable until AFTER you have satisfied a $2500 deductible
  • Your annual physical exam is the exception and is not subject to the deductible
  • In network doctor visits are $25 (after the deductible)
  • Out of network doctor visits require you to pay 40% of the billed rate
  • Generic drugs are $4 after the $2500 deductible for the first 2 fills, afterward you pay 50%
  • Formulary brand drugs are $30 after the $2500 deductible for the first 2 fills, afterward you pay 50%
  • Non-formulay brand drugs are $50 after the $2500 deductible for the first 2 fills, afterward you pay 100%

More details are available in the 76 page plan document.

Let's say you want to find a participating provider in your area. The site provides this handy link to locate doctors, hospitals and other medical providers who participate in PCIP.

I live in a large, metro area (Atlanta) and can easily find 300+ doctors and over two dozen hospitals within 10 miles of my home. So how does PCIP compare?

A quick search on their site turned up 13 general practice doctors who are willing to treat PCIP patients. Interesting that there are 65 psychiatrists willing to treat PCIP patients but only 13 GP's. If my wife needed an obstetrician she can pick from Dr. Schaefer or Dr. Schaefer (he has 2 offices). Cardiologists? There are 100. Oncologists? You can pick from 26.

How about hospitals? Only 4 within 10 miles of my home who are willing to treat PCIP patients and none of them have a labor and delivery room.

To recap, if you want Obamapool coverage you must be uninsured for at least 6 months before you can apply, even if you were on Medicaid and lost that coverage. Once you are approved, you are responsible for the first $2500 of all medical charges before the plan pays anything. This includes prescription drugs.

If you are taking anything other than a generic drug you will be responsible for paying 50% or more of the cost of the drug if you get it filled more than twice after satisfying your deductible. Consider that some cancer drugs (most of which are not generic nor are they on a formulary) can run anywhere from $400 to $8,000 per month.

You also need to try and find a doctor that will treat you and heaven help you if you need to schedule a hospital stay.

Smaller cars, bigger health insurance headaches, Poppa Washington.

New Hope for Ovarian Cancer

Those with ovarian cancer may have a new way to combat the disease. The WSJ reports that Avastin is showing promise in testing as a treatment for ovarian cancer. Avastin is already approved for colorectal, breast, lung and kidney cancers.

More good news.

Four years ago a 30 day dosage ran $8,000 per month. Now it is $600.