They always say nothing is certain but death and taxes, but quite recently, the increasingly high cost of cancer drugs make it appear that it is one of the more certain things in life. This is why more and more cancer patients and their families are having a hard time making ends meet. The cost is just too much for them, as they also need to set aside a budget for food, rent, utilities, and education, among many others.
Just over the past decade, prices of cancer-fighting prescription drugs have doubled, averaging from a monthly expense of $5,000 to a whopping $10,000. This excludes other related expenses such as chemotherapy sessions or radiation treatments. As a matter of fact, out of the twelve new cancer-fighting drugs that were approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2012, only one was priced under $100,000. All the rest exceeded the hundred thousand dollar range, which is, quite sadly, twice the amount of the average household income in the country as stated in a report by the Journal of National Cancer Institute.
Patricia Thomson, 65, is one of the many ordinary individuals battling cancer on a daily basis. She is wife and a working mother with a leukemia in remission. Even though symptoms of her cancer have stopped at a moment, there is always a chance of recurrence. As a result, she has to take medications to prevent this from happening and is now struggling to keep things afloat financially.
Included in her prescriptions is the cancer drug Sprycel. Formulated by global biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb, the drug is designed to treat chronic myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. While this is surely one of the things that is keeping her alive and well, the downside is that it is costing her over a hundred thousand dollars each year. Even with the help of Medicare to cover her expenses, Patricia still has to pay around ten grand a year from her own savings.
At the time of her interview with ABC News, she only has 30 or so pills remaining, which is good to last until about seven weeks. What worries her is that if her supply runs out, she might experience recurrence of her disease, which could result in her demise. At this point, she can no longer afford to cover all the expenses, the skyrocketing prices is just too much for her handle. For her, the situation just seems too unfair.
Thankfully though, around a hundred cancer specialists led by Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, chief of Houston-based M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Leukemia Center. The group is pressuring pharmaceutical companies to lower the prices of their cancer drugs. According to Dr. Kantarjian, “Patients who cannot afford the drugs are forgoing the treatment and dying.” The drug makers, on the other hand, looks like they are adamant on keeping it virtually unattainable as they say they spend over $1 billion on research and marketing expenses. Critics, on the other hand, disagree completely, putting the overall cost at only around $90 million or less.
This comes as no surprise though, because the pharmaceutical companies are the next to oil and gas companies in terms of industry profit in the United States. Cancer-fighting drugs such as Spyrcel and related first rate drugs are also being marketed at double the price when compared to other countries such as China, United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. The difference between the US and the aforementioned countries is that the government there has the power to set limitations on drug costs.
As the costs continue to go up, doubling since 2007, countless company CEOs of these pharmaceutical companies are raking in more cash, earning tens of millions of dollars. This is a stark contrast to the situation of cancer patients struggling to pool enough funds to pay for their prescribed drugs. This is why Patricia maintains that it is unethical for drug makers to charge put high prices on drugs that could potentially save so many lives. It’s very much like giving a person an opportunity but it’s too high to be reached.
The creators of Spyrcel, Bristol-Myers Squibb, gave a statement to ABC News, and it basically said that they take extreme care to the prices they give the drugs they are offering. You can also read their full statement here. Despite this seemingly objective statement, there is still one in five patients with cancer do not have enough money to buy their medicines. Patricia tried to apply for the Bristol-Myers Squibb reimbursement services program, but was unfortunately denied.