Cancer drug prices have seen a sharp increase in the past four years. The cost of a popular cancer drug, Lomustine has been raised by nearly 1400% as its new owner raised the price on nine different occasions.
Lomustine is a drug that has been used to treat lung cancer, brain tumors, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma for over 40 years. It was previously owned by a Bristol-Mayer Squib and sold by the name of CeeNU. At that time the cost of the drug was $50 per capsule. In 2013, it was sold to a Miami-based startup called NextSource Biotechnology. The new owner then started to hike the price and now the price is around $768 per capsule.
Although Lomustine is not a patented drug any longer, it still does not have any generic alternatives. This means that Nextsource enjoys a monopoly market and no competition can discourage it from increasing prices.
Cancer Drug Prices Are on a Continuous Price Hike
Most cancer drugs introduced between 2009 and 2014 were priced at more than $100,000 per patient for one year of treatment. Until recently, the launch prices have increased to more than $400,000 for a year of treatment.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, once cancer drugs are available to patients, their prices continue to increase over time. The study also found that prices of 24 patented injectable Medicare Part B drugs have risen 18% on an annual basis over the period of eight years. Even with the availability of the generic alternatives, the prices continue to rise.
The Threat to Cancer Care Treatment Due to Rising Drug Costs in America
Most people with cancer in the United States have a chemotherapy option that their insurance won’t pay for, and the copay is so high that the patients cannot afford that too. A report released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 2014 outlined the threat of the rising costs of cancer treatment in America.
Few of the Factors That Contribute Towards the Price Hike in Cancer Drugs
- Medicare reimbursement levels for these expensive cancer drugs are comparatively lower.
- With expanding population and people aging, cancer cases in the United States is steadily climbing. It is estimated that by 2020, there will be roughly 1.9 million additional new cases diagnosed per year and the annual cost of cancer care will rise to $173 billion.
- Rushing into combination therapies is also a leading factor contributing to increased costs. Healthcare crises have been one of the major causes of personal bankruptcies, and being diagnosed with cancer is a common one.
What Are the Consequences?
Due to the advancement in medicine and research, we have better drugs now that allow cancer patients to live longer but it comes at a cost. For example, Gleevec (imatinib) a medication used to treat leukemia (blood cancer) and other related diseases is a well-tolerated drug that works quite well, but it’s expensive. It’s not easy to pay 20% of a $10,000 drug bill for most patients.
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As a result of these increasing cancer drug prices, people stop taking their medications when prescribed. In a national household survey sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), one-fourth of people concerned about the mounting cost for cancer treatment reported skipping appointments, refusing treatments, postponing prescriptions, cutting pills in half, or doing something else against doctors’ orders to bring down the cost of treatment.
A constant hike in cancer drug prices will not only affect the financial well-being of a cancer patient but it can also have a severe impact on their physical well-being as well. On the other hand, Oncologists are also having a hard time because they are not getting Medicare reimbursements on time for these high-cost cancer drugs which makes it difficult for them to continue the practice.