A group of 118 oncologists put their foot down on the rising costs of cancer medication in an editorial in the Mayo Clinic medical journal, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, on Thursday. The editorial threw its support behind a grassroots patient effort to push for fairer prices from drug companies.
According to the editorial, many cancer patients are bankrupted by the high cost of care. Even for insured patients, a treatment that costs $120,000 a year might only be reduced to $30,000 in out-of-pocket expenses–more than half the average U.S. household income. The cost of drugs is so high that as many as 20% of oncology patients don’t take their medication as prescribed.
Cancer drugs were not always so expensive. Over the past 15 years, according to one study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the cost of cancer drugs rose by 10% (or about $8,500) every year. In 2014 alone, prescription drug prices rose 12%.
“High cancer drug prices are affecting the care of patients with cancer and our health care system,” the lead author, Dr. Ayalew Tefferi, who is a hematologist at Mayo, said. The doctors designed a list of ideas that would make cancer drugs more affordable for the people they treat.
The group’s solutions included a proposal to allow individuals to import cancer drugs from other countries, where the medicine is far cheaper. In Canada, for example, oncology drugs are half the price of American ones.
Other solutions included creating a regulatory body that would propose fair pricing after a drug gains F.D.A. approval, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and preventing pharmaceutical companies from delaying access to generics.
“It’s time for patients and their physicians to call for change,” Dr. Tefferi said.