As many of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates lament the high cost of healthcare and put forth how they aim to make it more cost effective, few have focused on the impact of out-of-pocket costs specifically for cancer patients. They should. One in every two men and one in every three women will get cancer at some point over their lifetime. As the U.S. population and American lifespans increase, this toll will have major financial ramification for everyone.
When fighting against the disease, cancer patients are often at the mercy of the pharmaceutical industry. Given Pfizer’s recent announcement that it plans to merge with Allergan, making it the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, many cancer patients are wondering what this will mean in terms of their cost of care. Pfizer, a giant in the cancer pharma space, already raised prices on 133 of its brand-name drugs last year, and they are not alone. Big pharma has raised cancer drug prices up to 5000%. Recently ousted Turing CEO Martin Shkreli justified such hikes explaining, “I could have raised [prices] higher and made more profits for our shareholders, which is my primary duty.” The lack of focus on patients spawned outrage amongst patients, providers and even politicians, but the drug industry seems to be “in denial of the seriousness of its pricing problem.”
Granted, drug production takes years of research and can cost $350 million to get a single drug to market. Considering 95% of the experimental drugs will never see a pharmacy shelf, it might seem reasonable that the cost to patients is on the increase. But contrary to the pharmaceutical industry’s claims, the cost of innovation is not the driver of drug prices. A study published in JAMA Oncology found that prices of cancer drugs are not tied to novelty nor to effectiveness, but rather set to what the market can bear. Here within lies the problem: if you’re a patient faced with a cancer diagnosis, wouldn’t you pay whatever the cost, no matter the price?