LIVESTRONG Presidential Cancer Forum: Access to Brand Name Prescription Drugs

Doug Haberstroh Health Guide
  • Dear Lance Armstrong and Presidential candidates,


    My name is Doug Haberstroh, and I am a breast cancer husband. I'm here because I hope people can learn from the story of my wife, Keri Haberstroh. Keri was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 25, about nine months after we were married. I lost Keri this past November. My two questions for the participants in the Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum have to do with access to the right prescription drugs for cancer patients:

    1) What is your position on access to name brand versus generic prescriptions for cancer patients?


    2) Would you pass a bill stating that cancer patients would be allowed brand name prescriptions no matter what their healthcare insurance providers dictate in their policies?

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    Here's the real-life story behind my questions for Lance Armstrong's cancer forum:


    When Keri's breast cancer spread to her bones, she was in a lot of pain. Keri was prescribed a brand name pain pill called Oxycontin but received a generic version instead. Our healthcare provider's policy was that the generic version, Oxycodone Hydrochloride, was a suitable substitute, since Oxycontin was so expensive. However, the generic version was not working, and the brand name pill did.


    We learned about the difference in effectiveness only because the pharmacy ran out of the generic version on one of our refills and at no cost to us replaced a few pills with Oxycontin. When Keri took Oxycontin (the type she was supposed to have, according to our doctor), she was relieved from her pain for the first time ever.


    We told our doctor what had happened, and he wrote a doctor's referral to our healthcare provider stating that the brand name needed to be used instead of the generic.


    In spite of this, the healthcare provider rejected his recommendation, leaving Keri to suffer through the pain. Well, as you can guess, I found this unacceptable. I took it upon myself to fight our healthcare provider, which turned into a bigger battle than I had ever expected.


    Being in the military, I took the insurance problem to my chain-of-command to find a solution. No luck. We were basically told that it would take an act of Congress to change healthcare provider policy. Again, unacceptable. So that's where I took this matter to Congress, of course with approval from my chain-of-command.


    I wrote about ten letters to different Congressmen and Congresswomen, made phone calls, and fought tooth and nail for my wife who was already fighting a bigger battle than us all for her own health. I finally received a response from a certain Florida Congressman (I'll leave his name out) and he fixed the problem within a day.


    I guess it really does take an act of Congress to change healthcare policy. I don't find that right, and here's why: If Keri had been single, like I know some cancer patients are, she would not have had the strength to fight our healthcare provider about this matter. Keri would have been left to suffer through her pain knowing all the while that there was a pill out there that could be of relief but that she doesn't have the right to have it.


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    What more of a right does a cancer patient have than to have the right to any medication that can help them in their battle for their life? I hope this bit of background information explains my frustration with brand name versus generic medication decisions and the rights of a cancer patient.

    Let me know if you have any further recommendations to this question, but it is one that Keri and I had to suffer through and I would hate for any others to deal with this issue if they wouldn't have to.


    Thank you for your time.




    For more on Lance Armstrong's cancer forum, visit our special section:


    Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum: Our Breast Cancer Community's Questions and Advice


Published On: August 27, 2007