Making Cancer Care More Affordable

Published Online: February 17, 2014
Katie Sullivan
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore suggest that controlling the costs to treat cancer without increasing risk to patients requires a collaborative approach.

“We argue that the FDA, Medicare, insurance companies, the public, and the pharmaceutical companies have to come to some agreement. Competitive bidding by hospitals and health systems should be used to drive prices lower,” say researchers Ronan J. Kelly, MD, MBA, and Thomas J. Smith, MD. “We are sympathetic to drug companies that want to charge enough to generate enough return of the cost of investigation, but we need transparency regarding the cost of development. Some drugs can cost a billion to develop, perhaps, but not every one. There has to be some way to relate the price of the drug to the value of the drug. And we have to set limits.”

Drs Kelly and Smith add that hospitalization, imaging, and drug costs can all specifically be targeted.

Medical imaging such as positron emission tomography—or PET scans—while helpful, have not been shown to provide any more effective benefits or results than other less-costly examinations. As well, services such as hospice care can provide better care and quality of life at lower costs than hospitalization. In particular, however, they suggest that addressing drug costs will be the most essential.

“We'll get to a situation where only the richest of the rich can afford these drugs, and we will have a lot of people looking on from the sidelines,” say the researchers.

“There are drugs that cost tens of thousands of dollars with an unbalanced relationship between cost and benefit. We need to determine appropriate prices for drugs and inform patients about their costs of care,” explains Dr Smith.

Cancer drug spending is projected to increase nearly 40% by 2020 as new diagnoses of the disease in the United States continue to increase. Such trends require healthcare stakeholders to change practice patterns and to think more cost-effectively.

Around the Web

Three Ways to Make Cancer Care More Affordable [National Geographic]

US Cancer Care Researchers Say "Cut Drug Prices" [PharmaTimes]