A call for action on cancer drug prices

Volume 4, Issue 4, 2015


Experts outline steps to reduce costs and protect patients from financial burden.

Ayalew Tefferi, M.D.

Ayalew Tefferi, M.D.

More than 100 of the nation's leading cancer experts, including physicians in the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, have drafted a prescription for reducing the high cost of cancer drugs.

Their recommendations were published in a commentary in the August 2015 issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"High cancer drug prices affect the care of patients with cancer and our health care system," said lead author Ayalew Tefferi, M.D., a hematologist in the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. "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."

The group of cancer experts cites a 2015 study by D.H. Howard and colleagues that was published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that found that cancer drug prices have risen by an average of $8,500 per year during the past 15 years.

"When you consider that cancer will affect 1 in 3 individuals over a 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," Dr. Tefferi said. "It's time for patients and their physicians to call for change."

The group recommends several actions to stop the high cost of cancer drugs and allow market forces to work better:

  • Create a post-U.S. Food and Drug Administration drug approval review mechanism to propose a fair price for new treatments that is based on the value to patients and heath care
  • Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices
  • Allow the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, created through the Affordable Care Act, to evaluate the benefits of new treatments and allow similar organizations to include drug prices in their assessments of the treatment value
  • Allow importation of cancer drugs across borders for personal use — for example, prices in Canada are about half that of prices in the U.S.