Cost of cancer can be a debt sentence

21 February 2016 - 02:00 By MONICA LAGANPARSAD

If you are a young woman in your mid-20s, you are not expecting to get a dread disease - and cancer is the furthest thing from your mind.This is what Mark Heywood from Section27 - a public interest law centre based in Johannesburg - wants the probe into private healthcare to know.Heywood says his young friend, in her 20s and diagnosed with leukaemia, is weighed down by the financial burden of paying more that R500, 000 out of her own pocket.The first round of public hearings into the health market began in Pretoria this week, during which a panel heard that medical specialists, drugs and private hospitals were the main drivers behind the high cost of healthcare.story_article_left1Established by the Competition Commission, the inquiry has just skimmed the surface in finding the causes of the enormous cost of private healthcare.Heywood said his friend's case served to train the spotlight on what the inquiry will probe - the high cost of drugs and specialists as well as the need for better medical aid cover.Diagnosed six months ago, the young woman, who is on medical aid, has had to fork out her own money for care because her scheme only pays for a portion of her treatment.Heywood said when his friend signed up for her medical aid, she did not think about getting cover for dread disease.He said that in a three-month period her cancer treatment had included:• Chemotherapy for a total of R570, 000, of which the medical aid only paid R170, 000;• Medication to fight the side effects of the chemotherapy for R200000. Her medical aid contribution was R56, 000; and• Consultations with oncologists, and pathology for R50, 000. She had to pay the balance of R26, 000.''There never really has been an intense focus on why cancer drugs are so expensive. Pharmaceutical companies are allowed to fix the highest prices the market can bear and because people are desperate. Nobody wants to die and they find the means to pay the cost of these drugs," said Heywood.The inquiry has received more than 15, 000 pages of submissions. Among them, a report by the World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that from 2011 to 2013, South Africans paid more for private healthcare than people in 20 European countries, as well as in the US and the UK.A second round of public hearings begins in Pretoria on Tuesday.

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