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"High cancer-drug prices are affecting the care of patients with cancer and our health care system," Dr. Ayalew Tefferi, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in a Mayo news release.
Tefferi and his colleagues made a number of recommendations on how to address the problem in a commentary published July 23 in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices is one of the suggestions the team of 118 leading cancer experts offered as a possible solution.
Along with their recommendations, the group also expressed support for a patient-based grassroots movement on change.org that is demanding action on the issue.
"The average gross household income in the U.S. is about $52,000 per year. For an insured patient with cancer who needs a drug that costs $120,000 per year, the out-of-pocket expenses could be as much as $25,000 to $30,000 -- more than half their average household income," Tefferi explained in the news release.
A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that cancer drug prices have increased an average of $8,500 a year over the past 15 years.
"When you consider that cancer will affect one in three individuals over their lifetime, and [with] recent trends in insurance coverage [that] put a heavy financial burden on patients with out-of-pocket expenses, you quickly see that the situation is not sustainable," Tefferi said. "It's time for patients and their physicians to call for change."
The changes the commentary called for included:
- Create a review mechanism after a drug has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that would propose a fair price for new cancer drugs that is based on the value to patients and health care.
- Allow the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute -- established under the Affordable Care Act -- to evaluate the benefits of new cancer therapies, and let similar organizations include drug prices in their assessments of a treatment's value.
- Permit patients to import cancer drugs from other countries. For example, prices in Canada are about half that of prices in the United States, the experts said.
- Pass legislation to prevent drug companies from delaying the introduction of generic drugs, and reform the patent system to make it more difficult to unnecessarily extend patent protection of a drug.
- Encourage groups that represent cancer specialists and patients to consider the overall value of drugs and treatments when developing their treatment guidelines.
The group wrote that "it should be possible to focus the attention of pharmaceutical companies on this problem and to encourage our elected representatives to more effectively advocate for the interests of their most important constituents among the stakeholders in cancer -- American cancer patients."
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, July 23, 2015