The out-of-pocket price of many life-saving cancer medications continues to rise while insurance companies continue to raise deductibles and copays. Patients are paying more for their prescriptions than ever before, and they need solutions that offer cost-effective treatment.
The Oncological Problem
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. More often than ever before, patients obtaining potentially life-saving cancer drugs face a severe financial burden (1). Newer cancer medications can cost patients over US$100,000 each year, and oncology patients commonly spend an average of $8,700 each month on those they need to fight their disease (2, 3). Rising insurance deductibles and copayments force many cancer patients to pay more out-of-pocket costs for the expensive medications that could save their lives (2, 5). In response, payers are calling for drug-cost solutions that give patients a more affordable way to receive the treatments they need.
Only 50 years ago, it was common for new cancer drugs to cost an average of $100 each month, but now many patients regularly pay close to $10,000 every month (4). Many patients — especially those under age 65 with no access to Medicare or high-deductible insurance plans — simply cannot afford such drugs (2). Because of financial concerns, 32% of individuals recently diagnosed with cancer and 28% of those with a past history of cancer ask their doctors for lower-cost medications (2).
Unfortunately for those patients, some lower-cost cancer medications slow the progression of cancer rather than provide effective, disease-halting treatment. Lower-cost drugs, such as off-brand and generic drugs, also can come with a range of possible side effects that patients might experience: from no effect at all to death (2).
The United States is experiencing a healthcare crisis in which patients are diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease and offered treatment options, only to discover that they cannot afford the treatments. The resulting financial stress can be extremely demoralizing at a time when it’s crucial for a patient to be in the right state of mind to fight his or her disease. These patients need solutions when it comes to paying for the medications that could save their lives.
Seeking Radical Solutions
Some organizations are pushing to take the production of cancer medications out of the hands of the pharmaceutical industry. In attempts to curb the rising costs of oncology drugs, some hospitals are beginning to purchase cancer medications collectively (6). Additionally, physicians and other professionals are calling for a review of the way many cancer drugs are packaged. Some products come in vials that contain more medication than a given patient actually needs, and leftover medication often must be discarded for safety reasons. The prices of such drugs do not reflect the amount of medication actually used by their recipients. It has been estimated that up to $2.8 billion is wasted every year simply because of the way cancer drugs are packaged (7).
If we can find different ways to provide patients with much-needed cancer drugs that are more affordable and ensure that patients receive proper care, we would be doing patients across the world a disservice by choosing not to explore those options. Companies and drug manufacturers must take the initiative to find ways to lower the cost of these medications while giving patients the life-saving treatments they need.
1 National Center for Health Statistics: Cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page. May 2017; www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/cancer.htm.
2 Reuters: Many US Cancer Patients Struggle to Afford Life-Saving Medications. Fox News Health 23 February 2017; www.foxnews.com/health/2017/02/23/many-us-cancer-patients-struggle-to-afford-life-saving-medications.html.
3 Price of Cancer Drugs Vastly Higher in US, According to Study. Financial Times; www.ft.com/content/851cd240-2b6f-11e6-bf8d-26294ad519fc.
4 Whitman E. Will the Cost of Cancer Drugs Break the Economy? Modern Healthcare 14 March 2017; www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170314/NEWS/170319977.
5 Mills D. Price of Cancer Drugs Has Skyrocketed Since 2000. Healthline 28 April 2016; www.healthline.com/health-news/price-of-cancer-drugs-hasskyrocketed#1.
6 Hospitals to Buy Cancer Drugs Collectively to Drive Costs Down. DutchNews.nl. 20 February 2017; www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/02/hospitals-to-buy-cancer-drugs-collectively-to-drive-costs-down.
7 Silverman E. In the Trash: Wasted Cancer Drugs Cost Nearly $3 Billion Each Year. STAT 1 March 2016; www.statnews.com/pharmalot/2016/03/01/cancer-drugs-wasted.
Paul Crowe is CEO of NuView Life Sciences and managing partner of San Diego Gamma Knife Center; 1389 Center Dr #250, Park City, UT 84098; 1-888-902-7779; http://nuviewinfo.com/site/3. An experienced healthcare executive, over the past 40 years he has helped commercialize new imaging technologies such as diagnostic ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET). Such technologies provide physicians with tools to help them effectively diagnose and subsequently treat chronic human diseases with improved patient outcomes and lowered healthcare costs.