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Experts Call for Lower Cancer Drug Prices

Treatment costs climb $8,500 a year for past 15 years

A group of 118 of the nation’s leading cancer experts have drafted a prescription for reducing the high cost of cancer drugs and have voiced support for a patient-based grassroots movement demanding action on the issue. Their recommendations are outlined in a commentary published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

“High cancer drug prices are affecting the care of patients with cancer and our health care system,” said lead author Ayalew Tefferi, MD, a hematologist at the Mayo Clinic. “The average gross household income in the U.S. is about $52,000 per year. For an insured patient with cancer who needs a drug that costs $120,000 per year, the out-of-pocket expenses could be as much as $25,000 to $30,000 –– more than half their average household income.”

The group cites a 2015 study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, which found that cancer drug prices have increased by an average of $8,500 per year during the past 15 years.

“When you consider that cancer will affect one in three individuals over their lifetime, and [with] recent trends in insurance coverage [that] put a heavy financial burden on patients with out-of-pocket expenses, you quickly see that the situation is not sustainable,” Tefferi said. “It’s time for patients and their physicians to call for change.”

In their commentary, the experts say that the following actions would improve the situation and allow market forces to work better:

  • Create a post-FDA drug-approval review mechanism to propose a fair price for new treatments that is based on the value to patients and heath care.
  • Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
  • Allow the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, created through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to evaluate the benefits of new treatments and similar organizations to include drug prices in their assessments of the treatments’ value.
  • Allow the importation of cancer drugs across borders for personal use. For example, prices in Canada are about half of the prices in the U.S.
  • Pass legislation to prevent drug companies from delaying access to generic drugs (so-called “pay for delay”).
  • Reform the patent system to make it more difficult to prolong product exclusivity unnecessarily (patent “evergreening”).
  • Encourage organizations that represent cancer specialists and patients, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society of Hematology, and the American Association for Cancer Research, to consider the overall value of drugs and treatments in formulating treatment guidelines.

The experts also support the patient-based, grass-roots movement ( that advocates against high cancer drug prices with the goal of drawing the attention of pharmaceutical companies and elected representatives to this issue. The authors write: “With proper support of these grass-roots efforts and proper use of that support downstream, it should be possible to focus the attention of pharmaceutical companies on this problem and to encourage our elected representatives to more effectively advocate for the interests of their most important constituents among the stakeholders in cancer –– American cancer patients.”

Source: Mayo Clinic; July 23, 2015.

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