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Tennessee pastor has access to essential cancer drugs through marketplace plan

February 1, 2017

By JULIE MINDA

About 14 years ago, clinicians diagnosed Michael Rigsby with a rare liver cancer. Since then, he has received a chemotherapy injection every four weeks to prevent the growth of his tumor; and he will have to follow this treatment regimen for the rest of his life.

The drug is priced at $25,000, per injection, according to Rigsby.

Rigsby, age 59, estimates that the shots would have cost about $2.5 million so far, if he'd had to pay for them out of pocket. "There is no way I could afford it. If it was up to me to pay for it, I would have to stop taking it. But, it's keeping me going."

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Rigsby

Rigsby, of rural Coalmont, Tenn., says he enrolled in a plan on the health insurance marketplace three years ago, and he has maintained that coverage since. The insurance pays for his monthly injection.

Rigsby had been covered through Tennessee's Medicaid program, TennCare, until 2005, when the state significantly reduced its Medicaid rolls. He says he priced health care policies sold by three major health insurers after losing Medicaid coverage, but because of his preexisting condition he was priced out of the private health care market.

Uninsured for eight years, Rigsby got his chemotherapy injections at no cost through a charity program from Novartis, the drug's maker. He relied on deep discounts from CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., for his ongoing medical care while he was uninsured.

Rigsby says it gives him peace of mind to be able to buy insurance on the Affordable Care Act-enabled exchange. "I don't have to worry whether I have the money or the means to keep my treatments going."

Rigsby says his tumor has not grown under his treatment protocol, and his oncologist calls him a walking miracle. Rigsby says he is making the most of his "bonus time" with his wife, children and grandchildren.

He notes his wife first used the family's marketplace coverage last year, when she had chest pains. She thought she was having a heart attack, though tests revealed the problem was an imbalance in her triglycerides. Rigsby says just having the insurance made the whole experience less stressful for the family.

A pastor at Plainview Community Church in Tracy City, Tenn., Rigsby says he hopes politicians "will think about everybody" when addressing health care reform, so that insurance gains will be preserved for people who have coverage, and that the needs of the uninsured will be addressed.



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