The ACT government has promised to scrap the chemotherapy co-payment ACT cancer patients are "unfairly" slugged when receiving public treatment.
The government is set to announce it will start paying the co-payment on behalf of patients by as early as the end of the month, estimating it will be covering about $1 million in payments a year.
Canberra Hospital chemotherapy patients can currently face out-of-pocket costs up to about $1500 a year.
It comes after a campaign by Canberra cancer patient Caitlin Moorhouse who says she was promised the payment would be dumped more than a year ago when Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris said she was horrified patients were being charged.
Ms Moorhouse was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2015 and moved to Melbourne to receive intensive treatment where she faced no out-of-pocket expenses for chemotherapy.
She returned to Canberra when her condition stabilised and began chemotherapy at Canberra Hospital and was shocked to discover there was an out-of-pocket expense for public patients.
She calculated that with more than 40 rounds of chemotherapy over the course of her treatment, had most of it been in Canberra she would have been thousands out of pocket.
“We just about fell off our chairs when we discovered the co-payment,” Ms Moorhouse said.
“For us, it’s not particularly an issue of financial hardship but you can imagine for some people it would be a really big issue when you’re not working or working less.
“The hospital's advice was to contact a not for profit - Rise Above - which will pay for it.
"It's really an issue of equity, why are we paying this when other states are not? It's totally unfair. And why should a not for profit be picking up the slack?"
Ms Moorhouse contacted Ms Fitzharris’ office and received a call from her saying she was horrified patients were being slugged and was looking at stopping the payments.
But when Ms Moorhouse resumed chemotherapy in November last year she was still charged the chemo co-payment, which was usually about $90 a round.
She welcomed the announcement but said it was well overdue.
“I’m tired and I’m quite cross that it basically took going to the media and the opposition to get anything happening,” she said.
“I feel pretty jaded about the system."
In the ACT, most chemotherapy treatments are provided to outpatients and have attracted a co-payment. This occurs because the ACT government does not have a Commonwealth agreement regarding access to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for chemotherapy drugs, as is the case in Victoria and Queensland.
NSW is the only other state not part of the agreement, however the NSW government has paid the co-payment on behalf of patients since 2015.
Per medication the general rate is $39.50 and the concession rate is $6.40. At any one chemotherapy session a patient may receive more than one medication, and is charged the co-payment for each one.
Once a patient has contributed about $1500 a year, he or she would pay $6.40 per medication course.
A spokeswoman for Ms Fitzharris said, "Over the past year the ACT government has heard from chemotherapy patients and their families, and we have been working on the best way to assist them so they no longer have to pay a co-payment when they receive treatment.
"The ACT government acknowledges that for many patients this co-payment has been an added financial stress at a time when they should be focusing on getting well.
"This is why we have made a commitment to meet the cost of chemotherapy medication co-payments on behalf ACT patients receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer. We are working to have this in place by the end of July 2018. From this time, patients will no longer be charged directly.
"The recently signed agreement with the Commonwealth does not cover this issue, however the ACT government is committed to working with the Commonwealth government to continue seeking ways to support the affordable provision of chemotherapy drugs to people with cancer."
Opposition health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne said the commitment, while overdue, was welcomed by the Canberra Liberals.
“It is not reasonable or conscionable to financially burden cancer patients and their families during an already very distressing time, "she said.
“The Labor-Greens government collects considerable revenue through rates, taxes, fees and other charges which would help cover the cost of these lifesaving treatments."
“However, the Canberra Liberals will lobby the Commonwealth government to include the ACT in the Chemotherapeutic Pharmaceutical Access Program.”
Rise Above chief executive officer Melissa Gardiner said the not for profit would now have more money to help with other significant expenses cancer patients face.
"It's one less stress they will have to face," she said.