How cool, I'm Patient #1.
My oncologist wrote my prescription for Xalkori (the brand name for crizotinib), then paused as she handed it to me:
We may run into some problems, because this is considered off-label for ROS1.Urg, I didn't even think of that. Because the ROS1 group is so small (only about 30 cases), there have been no clinical trials specifically for us. We have tagged along with the ALK mutation trials because, thankfully, the mutations are similar enough that their targeted drugs also work for us. But technically, there are no drugs approved specifically for ROS1. My oncologist assured me that if insurance turns me down, we can appeal directly to Pfizer to get compassionate use of their drug. But all of this will take time.
I asked if I should wait to start the meds until after my scheduled scan on Friday.
Oh, this won't be through insurance by Friday.Sure enough, when I took the prescription to the Cancer Center pharmacy, they tried to run it and it was declined by my insurance. They will need to get a "prior authorization." This will take several days.
I spend Wednesday hoping to get a phone call from the pharmacy. No luck. So, I go to Pfizer's website and fill out the forms to request the drugs, but notice that the processing time is two weeks. Urg.
I contact the wonderful Bonnie of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. She replies within minutes, and starts working on my behalf. She contacts Dr. Camidge, one of the leading ROS1 researchers, and he advises her what documentation I will need in order to dispute my insurance. (Here is a nice short video of Dr. Camidge discussing ROS1, crizotinib, and the FDA challenges.)
Thursday rolls around, still no word from the pharmacy. I start to get nervous. I would normally be starting chemo on Tuesday, and if we end up needing to go to Pfizer and then wait two weeks for a response . . . this could drag on for ages without me getting any treatment.
So I tweet my frustration.
Tori Tomalia @lil_lytninMoments later, this appears in my feed:
Fighting @BCBSM to get my meds. #ROS1 #xalkori #LCAM2013 #lcsm
BCBSM @BCBSMWow, they follow twitter? Incidentally, does anyone know what "^GD" means?
@lil_lytnin Please email the 800# on the back of your card & contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org for help getting answers. Thanks. ^GD
I consider contacting member support, though doubt that they will be able to help me. I decide to first call the Cancer Center pharmacy to see if any progress has been made on my claim. Nope, insurance is refusing it, needs a "prior authorization." The pharmacist said they will work on it and let me know as soon as they know more.
How frustrating that my potentially life-altering medication is being held back by a mess of red tape.
I try to put the girls down for a nap (mostly a failure), I attempt to get some work done (semi-successful), I eat some lunch (success!), and then the phone rings.
It is BCBS of Michigan. They have expedited my claim and approved me for a 6 month supply of Xalkori. They tell me to call my pharmacy and have them re-run the prescription. It will go through now.
I call the pharmacist and tell him this.
(Stunned silence) Your insurance called YOU?!? This happens in maybe ... 1 out of 20 cases.He re-runs the prescription. It goes through. The meds are ready for me.
I tweet a "thank you" about BCBS expediting my claim.
Then I start to feel bad. Had I strong-armed the insurance company by tweeting about them? Had I been inappropriate in airing my frustrations publicly? Should I have just quietly waited and accepted whatever response they gave? Suddenly, the words of a fellow lung cancer warrior ring in my ears: "Stage IV is no time to be timid."
It's true, I am literally fighting for my life.
Tomorrow morning I have a CT scan to see the impact of rounds five and six of chemo (results on Tuesday). I would love to see more shrinkage, and hope for at least stability. I plan to ask for a vanilla/mocha blend for the contrast solution (see my post "Fear" for that story).
Tomorrow night I will start my new adventure with Xalkori. I hope I am one of the lucky ones who show a great response. I plan to stock up on ginger ale and Imodium for what I've heard can be a rough start with this medicine.
I will gladly accept all thoughts, prayers, well-wishes, chanting, etc as I head down this new path. Thank you, as always, for the amazing love and support you have been sending from all over the world.