the high price of pills for cancer

The Financial Times has a must-read column in today’s paper on the pricing of drugs for treatment of cancer. The article is gated, but those who register without charge are allowed to download three FT articles each month. This article is long, and very informative. It might be a good use of one of your free downloads this month.

When Jean Allen-Yannotti was diagnosed with a type of leukaemia in November 2015, it was the latest blow in a long fight that had already seen her defeat breast and lip cancer. Her doctors prescribed a cocktail of drugs that could keep her alive for another 15 years, but now she lies awake at night worrying whether she can afford the medicine, which costs $14,000 a month.

With Republicans in Congress trying to roll back the recent expansion in Medicaid, the state-funded programme for people with low incomes, Ms Allen-Yannotti fears she might have to stop taking the drug. As a part-time college administrator in Rhode Island, she earns $16,500 a year, so she would not be able to pay for the medicine or an insurance plan that would cover it.

“I try not to worry, but it’s really scary,” she says. “If I don’t have this medicine, then I’m going to die.” ….

[D]rugmakers have insisted that insurers, employers and the government do not pay the headline or “sticker” price for drugs. Instead, they use pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to extract large discounts in the form of rebates. ….

However, a Financial Times investigation has revealed that one class of drugs is practically immune from heavy discounting — cancer pills …. Even as other medicines are sold with rebates that typically cut their cost by a third, these life-saving medicines are still commanding a price tag near or at the sticker price.

David Crow, “Cancer pill costs soar as drug companies retain pricing power“, The Big Read, Financial Times, 1 May 2017 (gated paywall).

Mr Crow is Senior US Business Correspondent at the Financial Times.


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