More than 100 leading cancer experts in the US have written a joint commentary that states cancer drug prices are unsustainable, issuing an action plan for the problem, including starting a movement like the one that improved access to HIV drugs.
For each extra year of life given by cancer drugs, the financial cost for individuals averaged $207,000 in 2013 – up from the $54,000 in 1995 (inflation-adjusted prices), say the authors of the paper in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Part of the doctors’ support for a “patient-based grassroots movement demanding action on the issue” has been to set up a petition at change.org, which to date has over 6,000 supporters signed up. There is also a “Stop High Drug Costs” group on Facebook.
Lead author of the statement Dr. Ayalew Tefferi, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, says:
“High cancer drug prices are affecting the care of patients with cancer and our health care system. The average gross household income in the US is about $52,000 per year,” adding:
“For an insured patient with cancer who needs a drug that costs $120,000 per year, the out-of-pocket expenses could be as much as $25,000 to $30,000 – more than half their average household income.”
Dr. Tefferi continues: “When you consider that cancer will affect 1 in 3 individuals over their lifetime, and [with] recent trends in insurance coverage [that] put a heavy financial burden on patients with out-of-pocket expenses, you quickly see that the situation is not sustainable. It’s time for patients and their physicians to call for change.”
Added to the protest ideas, the statement lists a number of other action points, including allowing Medicare to negotiate cancer drug prices, and allowing the importation of cancer drugs for personal use across borders. They cite the example of Canada offering prices around half of those in the US.
Legislation is also called for that would curb the pharmaceutical industry:
- Stopping drug companies from paying to delay the introduction of generic drugs
- Halting patent “evergreening” – reforming the patent system against unnecessarily prolonged drug exclusivity.
Finally, the group of cancer advocates recommends measures to control pricing through regulations and guidelines:
- Create a drug approval review mechanism to propose a fair price for new treatments
- Allow the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, created through the Affordable Care Act, to evaluate the benefits of new treatments
- Encourage organizations that represent cancer specialists and patients to consider the overall value of drugs and treatments in formulating treatment guidelines.
Writing about the patient-based, grass-roots movement, the authors say:
“With proper support of these grass-roots efforts and proper use of that support downstream, it should be possible to focus the attention of pharmaceutical companies on this problem and to encourage our elected representatives to more effectively advocate for the interests of their most important constituents among the stakeholders in cancer – American cancer patients.”