How Doctors Are Fighting Back Against Outrageous Cancer Drug Costs

The pushback against soaring cancer drug prices is gaining steam. A leading doctors group on Monday proposed a formula to help patients decide if a medicine is worth it — what it will cost them and how much good it is likely to do.

The move by the American Society of Clinical Oncology is the third recent effort to focus on value in cancer care. Two weeks ago, the European Society for Medical Oncology proposed a similar guide. Last week, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York posted an online tool suggesting a drug’s fair price, based on benefits and side effects.

“We have a broken system” with drug prices rising more than the degree of benefit, said Dr. Peter Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Sloan Kettering. “We hope consumers increasingly think about value.”

New cancer drugs typically cost more than $10,000 a month, and patients are paying a greater share through higher copays and deductibles.

“We have extraordinarily expensive technology that we have developed but a lot of it doesn’t seem to move the needle that much” in terms of survival, Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School economist, told an audience at the U.S. oncology group’s annual conference last month.

Patients often are not fully aware of costs, which include not just the drug but also whether a patient needs to be hospitalized to get it, or to take other drugs to manage side effects, he said.

The formula is something doctors can work through with patients to get a bottom line on the survival benefit, side effects and costs of a new treatment or combo versus older ones.

So far, it’s just a prototype for four situations — lung or prostate cancer that has spread, advanced multiple myeloma and a common type of breast cancer. The group will —> Read More