Drug Companies Put Cancer Treatment
Out of Reach for Millions
February 7th, 2016 by Holly Cornish
(P.S. Insurance Doesn’t Cover All the Costs)
A study performed by the American Cancer Society and Kaiser Permanente shows that the yearly medical costs associated with being a cancer survivor are enough to put most people in the poorhouse.1
But here’s something you might not know: The costs can continue long after the patient is out of the hospital and no longer receiving intensive care. And not all those costs are covered by insurance.
When you combine those medical expenses with your reduced ability to earn a living while you’re dealing with your illness, you’ll find cancer creates a deadly double-whammy on your finances.
Continued below. . .
The researchers looked at the financial lives of the estimated14.5 million Americans living today who are cancer survivors. They focused on the costs of three types of cancer: prostate, breast and colorectal.
For people under the age of 60, they found the yearly medical costs ran, on average:
- $8647 for colorectal cancer
- $5119 for breast cancer
- $3586 for prostate cancer
Now keep in mind, those are yearly out-of-pocket extra medical costs you are doomed to spend for the rest of your life. That’s not what the insurance company pays. That’s what the patient pays.
While cancer survivors are often lucky to be alive, the economic consequences of cancer survival are kind of like winning a reverse lottery – you have to keep writing a big check every year forever.
Skipping the “cheap” treatments
The cost of cancer survival has become so egregious that many people are forgoing treatments that might help them live longer.
A study at the University of Colorado Cancer Center demonstrates that if folks aren’t covered by insurance for prescription drugs for hormone therapy that can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence, they are more likely to just skip taking the drugs. The study also found that, coverage notwithstanding, you have to be in an upper income bracket to afford these drugs.2
According to the study, if your household income, for instance, is below $40,000, you are less than half as likely to buy and take these drugs as women whose households earn $70,000 a year or more.
So we are rapidly entering an era where only the financially comfortable can afford to survive cancer the conventional way. As the Colorado researchers point out, hormonal therapy for women with progesterone- or estrogen-positive breast cancer can shrink their risk of the cancer coming back by 50 percent. But many can’t afford it.
Missing the target
The Colorado scientists also warn of the high cost of new “targeted” treatments for cancer (targeted therapies are designed to more specifically kill particular types of cancer cells with fewer side effects while stopping the proliferation of tumors). The targeted drugs are extremely expensive and are usually available as pills that you take at home.
The result, say the researchers, is that people will save money by skipping doses.
“When you start to dial back from recommended doses, at some point the drug loses its effectiveness,” says researcher Cathy J. Bradley, Ph.D., who is with the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
Dr. Bradley adds that the rising costs of these types of drugs endangers cancer survivors.
“We have good evidence that when people feel that a drug is too expensive, they stop taking it,” she notes. “This study suggests that reluctance to insure prescription drugs may result in increased recurrence and poor survival among women with breast cancer, one of the largest groups of cancer survivors.”
Big Pharma gets richer
Of course, most of the money being (over)spent on these drug treatments is going right into the pockets of Big Pharma, the bloated drug companies that get rich on chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes that affect so many millions.
A study at MIT confirms what many cancer victims and their doctors already know – the price of cancer drugs has soared unreasonably during the past twenty years.3
The study runs the numbers and finds that the cost of the top cancer drugs has accelerated at a rate way past the inflationary rates of other items. The drug companies aim to make a killing on these drugs during the relatively brief period when they’re protected by patent.
During that time they have a monopoly and can charge anything they want, at least in the United States.
During the past two decades, the study demonstrates that the 58 leading cancer drugs, on average, went up about ten percent a year, every year – and that’s in real terms, after accounting for general inflation.
The researchers say that in 1995 the cost of being treated for cancer was about $54,000 for every extra year of life the drugs added. In 2013, that same extra year would’ve cost you about $207,000.
The researchers also point out that in the big business of selling pharmaceuticals, the sales of cancer drugs are the biggest segment – with a global market that was worth $91 billion in 2013. About $37 billion of that was spent by Americans. Their analysis of drug pricing also notes that prices only go up, they almost never go down.
Every time a new drug is introduced, it is priced 10 to 20 percent higher than the currently available drugs, even though the new drug is often no improvement. Sometimes new cancer drugs are approved by the FDA even though they add only a few months – or even a few weeks – to a patient’s life when compared to existing drugs. And that’s if you believe the clinical trial results, which are questionable.
Even conventional oncologists are starting to complain
The price of having cancer is so out of control that oncologists are starting to complain.
They warn that the drug companies are playing Americans as suckers for higher prices.
“Americans with cancer pay 50 percent to 100 percent more for the same patented drug than patients in other countries,” says S. Vincent Rajkumar, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. “As oncologists we have a moral obligation to advocate for affordable cancer drugs for our patients.”
Dr. Rajkumar and Dr. Hagop Kantarjian of the MD Anderson Cancer Center state that according to their research, the average price of cancer drugs for a year of treatment climbed from $5,000 to $10,000 in the 1990s to more than $100,000 by 2012. (They also point out that in the same time period, the average U.S. household income dropped by about eight percent.)4
And although Big Pharma claims that it operates in a free market that determines prices, the doctors call this a lie.
“One of the facts that people do not realize is that cancer drugs for the most part are not operating under a free market economy,” says Dr. Rajkumar. “The fact that there are five approved drugs to treat an incurable cancer does not mean there is competition. Typically, the standard of care is that each drug is used sequentially or in combination, so that each new drug represents a monopoly with exclusivity granted by patent protection for many years.”
According to these two doctors (and many authorities), the reasons for the inflated cost of cancer drugs include a law that prevents Medicare from negotiating drug prices along with a lack of pricing based on a drug’s value: a drug’s relative effectiveness in comparison to other drugs is not taken into account when setting a price.
The doctors recommend:
- Letting Medicare negotiate drug prices.
- Developing protocols for treating cancer that take into account the cost and benefit of cancer drugs.
- Allowing the Food and Drug Administration or panels of doctors to recommend pricing based on how effective drugs are.
- Doing away with so-called “pay-for-delay” tactics that let a drug company offer patent settlements that pay generic drug companies not to bring lower-cost alternatives to market. These pay-for-delay settlements effectively block generic drug competition for a growing number of branded drugs.
- Letting people buy drugs from abroad to use for their own illnesses.
- Permitting the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute5 (a non-profit group that analyzes the benefits of therapies) and other cancer advocacy groups to take into consideration the cost of drugs when they make their recommendations. (I would remind the good doctors that oncologists are already able to steer their patients toward lower-cost generic cancer drugs that are just as effective. They just don’t do it.)
- Creating some sort of consumer lobbying group that can push for the interests of people with cancer and fight back against the lobby efforts of Big Pharma, insurance firms, pharmacies and hospitals.
Big Pharma has had its way for far too long in deciding how much you have to pay to survive cancer. Your best protection against their greed is to do every natural thing you can to keep cancer away. But something has to be done to keep their constantly rising profits from bankrupting the country.
And if you already have cancer, the most useful step you can take is to reject chemotherapy altogether if your cancer is metastatic. All the best information I have indicates that the treatments are useless. At best, they “buy time” (and in reality, they don’t.) Choose alternatives. That’s what this newsletter is all about.
Last week we wrote about an Ayurvedic remedy for general health – a fruit that was new to me and probably to most of my readers, too. If you missed the story, we’re rerunning it just below.