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In The Community // August 17, 2016 MAAC Staff

How Rising Cancer Costs Affect Mesothelioma Patients

The price of medicine in general is on the rise. In fact, health spending is projected to grow at a rate of 5.8% through the year 2022. And one illness is picking up a large portion of the bill—cancer.

Cancer care costs are escalating at an overwhelming rate, and they are going to continuing to rise. But what is causing the price tag of this disease to grow so quickly? Here are some of the biggest factors that can be attributed to the increasing costs of cancer.

Cancer and Arthritis Drugs Top the Cost List

New drugs are constantly flooding into the pharmaceutical markets, including those related to cancer and arthritis. In many ways, these cancer and arthritis-related drugs are increasing the costs of medicine overall. In fact, many brand-name drugs cost more than 2 ½ times as much as they did in 2008.

Because there are few, if any, alternatives for many specialty drugs, the prices are set high per patient annually.  Drugs for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis proved especially expensive. In fact, every patient with insurance was charged about $89 per treatment in 2015.

Climbing Costs and The Factors that Add to Them

Unfortunately, the costs for these treatments are trending upward. In 2015, cancer-related drug costs were estimated at $107 billion, and this is expected to increase by over $40 billion within the next four years. Although the FDA has approved 20 new cancer-treating drugs since fall of 2014, some of these cost over $104,000 per patient annually.

Take, for example, Keytruda, an experiential new treatment for mesothelioma. This drug runs at about $150,000 per patient per year, making it cost prohibitive for a vast majority of patients. The reason can be directed at the pharmaceutical companies.

As pharmaceutical companies chase specialized in-home treatments and drugs, costs tend to skyrocket. With every new research project and product comes the inevitable slew of marketing, research fees, and legal costs, pushing the price tags for these treatments to new heights.

Surgery Bills

Another factor to consider is surgical operations and the expenses associated with these. In 2014, the money spent on cancer-related surgeries ranged from an average of $14,161 to an astonishing $56,587, with a pancreatectomy topping the list. The things that drive the cost of such procedures up include hospital admission fees, physician services, and hospice and outpatient care expenses.

Traveling

Beyond the obvious factors, other costs, like those associated with travel, compound the issue. These travel costs include gas, rental cars, plane flights, food, and lodging.  Fortunately, many hospitals that perform procedures and treatments for cancer patients are aware of these costs and sometimes make efforts to ease them.

Some will offer airfare and lodging coverage, reimbursements, or discounted services.  If a medical center does not offer these deals, some air travel companies will.  Some companies that are known for such services include The Air Charity Network and The Corporate Angel Network.

The State of Cancer Care in America

So what is the state of cancer care in America? Great progress has been made in 2015 with cancer research and other developments, improving our state of cancer care.  The U.S. cancer care system has developed updated cancer therapies and enhanced screening methods, resulting in improved mortality rates.

There were more than 180 approved anticancer agents and various forms of precision medicine highlighted by President Obama. Mortality rates have kept steady for some types of cancer such as bladder and brain cancer. Increased cancer screening and the implementation of precision treatment have been key parts of the national strategy to address cancer care in the US.  These, along with fundraising and support for research, help drive much of the progress.

Are All Types of Cancer Improving?

Mesothelioma, unfortunately, is one type of cancer that appears to be on the rise. The Hartford Financial Services Group’s recent second-quarter reports reflect an increase in asbestos cases. Mesothelioma claims trended up and greatly exceeded expectations.

Mesothelioma patients face costs relating to chemotherapy, surgery, and other treatments. Surgery alone can cost up to $40,000. Chemotherapy itself can reach $30,000, and radiation $10,000. This does not even include the costs of diagnosis, testing, treating recurrence, and ongoing checkups and medications for survivors.

Reducing the Costs of Cancer

What can be done about these rising costs of care? The government plays a significant role in reducing global cancer care costs. One recommendation is to develop a consensus on “value-based decision making.”

Government officials can also act as information brokers by tracking and reporting findings. In the long term, government agencies and stakeholders should move to create better systems for financing care related costs. State and federal agencies have the power to improve on and create new approaches, such as becoming “strategic purchasers,” leveraging public assets for the public good.

Government can also act as an important agenda setter, developing priorities in cancer spending and ensuring a more organized approach while also developing stronger education programs for the community.

One focus going forward should be on the costs and the policies surrounding cancer treatments and procedures. Pricing policies in healthcare systems design their plans around costs. Any successful plan involves reviewing current treatments to cut down on waste and focus on effective and efficient treatments.

Many findings recommend specific procedures that cut costs and actually improve the quality of care. These include various methods of chemotherapy and therapeutic practices.

A common thread in all these approaches is clear: the need for price transparency. With rising costs of cancer treatment in general – and for mesothelioma in particular – patients and physicians prove consistently unaware of the prices is lurking beneath the surface. Price awareness fosters competition and downward pressure on treatment prices. With the knowledge of price, physicians can advertise affordable costs for quality care and avoid overspending. Price transparency efforts give the opportunity for patients to “shop” for what best works for them, alleviating some of the financial burden and increasing access to quality care.