That might be the conclusion drawn by readers of a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek. Recession Causing Cancer Patients to Quit Life-Extending Drugs which was the August 4 feature in the Executive Health column. This news story earned billing as the Outrage of the Week in NLARx News from the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices. The original article discusses the dire plight of patients in California with GIST ( gastrointestinal stromal tumor) who lost their jobs and hence insurance, and are no longer able to afford the Gleevec which has been keeping them alive to the tune of $5000/month. Or for those who still have insurance, the unaffordable cost of the co-pays, often 50-70% of the Rx retail cost, in accordance with the now-common tiered formulary systems. Equally outrageous however is that the article completely misses the boat when discussing remedies for the situation. Author Amanda Gardner describes how patient assistance programs (PAPs) may be available temporarily for some patients as a stop-gap measure, and posits how things should get better as the provisions of the Affordable Care Act roll out. In the meantime, however, the very survival of many of the patients described is in jeopardy with no solution in sight, if we are to believe such spokespeople as Stepehn Finan, senior policy director of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network , who was quoted stating that [the PAPs]
…….. are the only real options at this point for people who are pressed to afford their prescription costs.
Yet the urgent need for something to be done about the exorbitant price of drugs is not mentioned in this article. Unaffordable medicines are not inevitable. Real remedies exist such as allowing CMS to negotiate for drug prices like the VA does, instituting price controls, and allowing prompt development of generics of the most costly drugs. The grip of Big Biopharma lobbyists on Congress will remain strong if the public continues to believe that nothing can be done.
For the record, the vast majority of funding for the research that led to creation of Gleevec came from government coffers and nonprofit sector sources, and drug’s first US patent expires in 2015.