The following is a guest blog post by Harold DeMonaco, the Assistant Chief Medical Officer for Care Transitions at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He has been one of our most active reviewers and guest bloggers throughout our 9+ year history.
Discussion of cost is one of the criteria that HealthNewsReview.org uses to judge the quality of news stories about medical treatments. This month’s edition of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings contains a commentary authored by no fewer than 116 of the country’s leading oncologists related to cost of care that deserves some additional attention from the news media.
The authors, who are from some of the most prestigious cancer centers, speak to what is all too familiar to cancer patients and their families: cancer treatment can bankrupt a family quickly. The cost of cancer treatment has escalated to the point that it exceeds the average American’s ability to pay, even with insurance coverage. Out-of-pocket expenses, even with good insurance, can exceed $25,000 to $30,000 annually. The commentary is entitled, “In Support of a Patient-Driven Initiative and Petition to Lower the High Price of Cancer Drugs.”
Here are some of the rather sobering points made in the commentary:
The commentary references a study recently published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that includes a chart that tells the inexplicable truth: the cost of drugs for each additional year of life gained has steadily increased over time. (Click on the figure at right.) The good news is that newer drugs can prolong lifespan and improve the quality of life of cancer patients. The bad news is that these drugs are rapidly becoming unaffordable to the average American.
In many instances, health care journalists don’t seem to be telling their readers about the rising cost of these drugs and what that trend means for patients. Consider the following new stories about cancer drugs that reviewers on this site rated Not Satisfactory on discussion of costs:
But there’s some indication that health care journalists just might be becoming more cost conscious. Last week, the Wall Street Journal focused attention on pricing for an experimental new Eli Lilly drug, necitumumab, which the authors of a JAMA Oncology pricing study said should cost no more than about $1745 per month, given its marginal average survival benefit of only 6 to 7 weeks. They noted that pricing for other similar new drugs typically exceeds $10,000 per month.
That’s an important proposal, and kudos to the Journal for covering it. Mentioning cost in any discussion of new cancer therapies is a critical step toward raising public awareness.
The Mayo Clinic Proceedings commentary also suggests the following actions that could be taken to address this issue:
Readers are encouraged to sign on to a petition posted at Change.org. The goal is one million signatures. At the moment approximately 30,000 people have signed on.