Monday, March 19, 2007
The Los Angeles Times on Sunday examined the "new generation of hyper-expensive cancer drugs" that tend to extend lives by only a few months. According to the Times, the high prices of the drugs, which can cost as much as $100,000 for a year's supply, and their relatively limited health benefits "have sparked arguments among policymakers and medical professionals about what to do with the growing number of people who are depleting their life savings on the drugs, or worse, who can't get them at all." Drug companies and some patients "insist even incremental gains" in their health "are worthwhile," even as the cost burden of such drugs grows for patients, who increasingly are paying percentages of treatment rather than copayments, according to the Times. In addition, because insurers typically pay for FDA-approved drugs, the cost of covering the treatments "would eventually spill into the nation's overall medical bill and therefore would raise everyone's insurance premiums," the Times reports. FDA approval of the drugs for use in early-stage cancers also could significantly expand usage, which could increase health care costs overall. Some physicians have begun to offer payment plans to patients who use the drugs, and some biotech drug manufacturers have placed caps on patient spending. For example, patients can receive Amgen's Vectibix for no cost after copays for the drug exceed 5% of their adjusted gross income. Meanwhile, patient advocacy groups, such as Breast Cancer Action, are pushing for legislation that would limit the prices drug companies could charge for biotech drugs. Peter Neumann, director of the Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk at Tufts-New England Medical Center, said, "In terms of the cost of a life saved, it's possible other areas of medicine, like better disease prevention or better cardiovascular care, may be more effective" (Costello, Los Angeles Times, 3/18).