How to Address Skyrocketing Prices of Cancer Drugs

Oncology experts offer advice

Many cancer patients find themselves in financial distress partly because the costs of cancer-fighting drugs are skyrocketing, according to an editorial in JAMA Oncology.

Is it possible to create public policy that will rein in these prices and cut patients’ out-of-pocket costs? Not without significant tradeoffs that could reduce patients’ access to some cancer medications, says cancer researcher and health economist Dr. Scott Ramsey.

Ramsey, director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, and two colleagues propose three policy interventions:

  • Public and private health insurers must have the ability to negotiate prices with manufacturers.
  • Insurers need the ability to withhold products from formularies if drug prices do not represent good value.
  • There must be greater transparency of cancer drug pricing and better information about treatment choices.

“The current model for cancer drug pricing is not sustainable and harms patients and families as well as our health care system,” the experts write. “Solutions are possible that better balance access, affordability, and incentives to innovate, but, by necessity, will create situations where low-value drugs are not available except outside of the insurance system. Whether society will accept that ‘pain’ for the gain of a more equitable and sustainable cancer drug market remains to be seen.”

Ramsey and his colleagues have studied the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis. In 2013, they reported that patients diagnosed with cancer were 2.5 times more likely to file for bankruptcy than were those not diagnosed with the disease. Last month, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, they reported that cancer patients who file for bankruptcy have a significantly higher risk of dying than do those in less financial distress. In some types of cancer, the risk was more than doubled.

Source: EurekAlert; February 12, 2016.