With a group of doctors recently in the news complaining about the high cost of new cancer drugs, others say it’s actually time we spend more money on those drugs because they truly bring down the cost of cancer care overall, often eliminating the need for costly hospital stays that are mostly caused by complications from older, less-targeted drugs that cause countless side effects.
An article in Forbes by Dr. Scott Gottlieb explains that America is seeing plenty of overall progress in the field of cancer care, despite the fact that total spending on oncology care has been remarkably constant over the last 20 years, accounting for just less than 5% of total healthcare spending. The newer, more expensive cancer drugs, he adds, not only have produced markedly better clinical outcomes but also cheaper care overall.
“Far less money is being spent on services like hospitalizations, and far more on outpatient medicines,” Gottlieb explains. “Cancer treatments that used to make patients very sick and require costly hospitalizations have been replaced with targeted drugs that can allow patients to be more easily treated at home.”
“Part of the shift to outpatient treatment was driven by economic incentives that made it more profitable to prescribe cancer drugs in doctors’ offices,” he adds, “But this shift was also driven by the wider use of less toxic, more effective medicines that let patients be safely treated while at home.”
While inpatient cancer admissions accounted for 64 percent of total cancer care spending in 1987, that figure is now closer to 27 percent, Gottlieb explains. Unfortunately, however, most insurance companies cover hospital admissions better than they cover care delivered in the community. This is especially true for cancer drugs. This is where the catch-22 situation enters the picture, he explains. At that point, individuals become responsible for large out-of-pocket treatment costs, especially for newer drugs.
Because of government rules, Gottlieb goes on to explain, drug companies are forced to price their products as high as possible as soon as they enter the market, recognizing that they may not be able to make price increases later.
“The price tag of new medicines isn’t trivial, nor is the high cost of treating cancer,” Gottlieb stresses. “But the clinical and economic data shows that when it comes to technological advances and new drugs, we continue to get increasingly more for our money.”