Last week, in an article for Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a group of 118 distinguished doctors united to question the pricing of cancer drugs, which is “unsustainable,” and to call for a new pricing method. As this 60 Minutes report reveals, the drug companies set the price of cancer drugs as high as they can. And because of their market power, cancer drug prices have risen an average of $8,500 a year for the last 15 years, a five to ten-fold increase in the price of new cancer drugs over that period.
One in three Americans will have some form of cancer. And, even with insurance, they typically will end up bearing 20 to 30 percent of the cost of their cancer drugs. The insurers have no ability to rein in prices so insurers simply shift more drug costs to their members. People who need a new cancer drug easily could end up with out-of-pocket annual costs of $30,000 just for their cancer medication. Worse still, they might have to forego needed treatment. In 2014, the least expensive new cancer drug approved cost more than $120,000 a year.
American households have an average gross income of $52,000. And half of people over 65 have incomes under $23,500. When out-of-pocket costs for cancer medications are anywhere near $20,000 a year, most people will need to sell assets or take out loans to pay for the drugs; $20,000 represents half of the take-home pay of a typical working family and slightly less than the average income of older adults.
Not surprisingly, as many as one in five cancer patients today are not taking their cancer treatments or taking less than the amount they need. They and their families are suffering and some are needlessly dying. The doctors argue that something has to change.
The doctors offer several possible solutions, including Medicare drug price negotiation, which is the top policy priority for Americans. They also suggest legislation that would prevent pharmaceutical companies from paying generic drug companies to delay putting generic drugs in the market at lower prices and/or that would allow Americans to import drugs from abroad at lower prices. Click here to read their other proposed solutions.
If you agree that we need federal action to stop these high cancer drug prices, email [email protected] or click here, and we will add your name to the campaign list. In the meantime, if you’d like some tips for keeping your drug costs down, click here.