The Cost of Cancer Drugs

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The cost of cancer drugs, profiting and profiteering in the pharmaceutical business

This weeks podcast examines several connected topics. My friend Brett Newcomb and I begin by discussing a recent article involving a letter sent by over a hundred Cancer specialists to the pharmaceutical industry chastising them for charging to much for Cancer drugs. In the letter these doctors point out that the industry made over 4 Billion dollars profit on cancer drugs. They say that this profit level is unconscionable because the pricing of the drug makes it so expensive that many cannot afford it and as a result, they die. These drugs cost on average over $100,000 a year. That means that with an average co-pay of 20%, a cancer patient would have to spend over $20000 out of pocket to receive this drug. In some cases the costs are even higher.

This creates a life and death decision for the patient. When the cost of a drug that you need to stay alive is greater than the average wage for a year’s work, something is wrong. These Cancer specialists agree that the drug manufacturers need to make a profit. Their point is that there needs to be a discussion in the entire community, including manufacturers, physicians, insurers, government agencies and regulators, and consumers about how drugs are manufactured, researched, and priced. What should be the policy for providing expensive drugs when individual patients cannot afford them? Obviously difficult and expensive decisions need to be made by someone. We are strongly advocating that every stakeholder in the medical system participate in a serious, honest dialogue about choice making and regulation involved when decisions need to be made about treatment and care.

Our conversation continues as we discuss struggles that many people face when they or someone they love have a prescription from a doctor, one who is trained and licensed, for a particular medicine that the doctor thinks is appropriate for them to obtain as a treatment, and this medicine is not available because of FDA policy, insurance company policy, cost related issues, profit motive, or some other factor (such as who decides about the formulary that an insurance company utilizes to price its drug reimbursement costs).

We continue to advocate in this podcast, as we often do that our listeners become involved as active participants in the discussion and the decision making process. Remember the best customer is an educated consumer. The Cancer specialists were able to shame the drug industry into cutting the cost of the particular drug at issue by half. Good for them. Shame on the rest of us for allowing this to happen without being part of the discussion. As the philosopher once said, you are a part of the problem or you are a part of the solution.