In “The Cost Of Cancer Drugs,” aired on October 5, 2014, Lesley Stahl of CBS’ 60 Minutes reported on the pharmaceutical industry’s rigging of cancer drug prices to levels so high they are bankrupting patients. Some doctors are speaking out about the industry’s practice of holding desperate patients hostage to the drugs for fear of losing their life.
There is hardly a family in the United States that is not in some way affected by cancer. Today, costs have become so astronomical that a growing number of patients can’t afford their co-pay. In fact, a cancer diagnosis is one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy.
This has driven a few of the most prominent cancer doctors in the country to revolt against the drug companies and the newer, even more costlier drugs they are producing.
Lesley Stahl first chronicled two doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Peter Bach and Leonard Saltz, who refused to use Sanofi’s Zaltrap at $11,063 a month for colon cancer, citing that although it was more expensive than Roche’s Avastin, it was no better.
Lesley then spoke to Hagop Kantarjian, of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, outspoken for decrying the high prices and steep price hikes of cancer drugs.
Dr. Kantarjian believes that at $100,000 to $120,000 a year (20 percent of which the patient has to pay as a co-pay), the drug companies are making prices unreasonable, unsustainable and immoral.
Generally speaking, once a patient has gone through chemo, these drugs are necessary for life to prevent recurrence. In the case of Gleevec, the drug actually works. Other drugs are not so successful, but just as expensive, or more expensive.
Competition seems to only raise costs. Novartis tripled the price of Gleevec in the last few years, in spite of several competing drugs that have entered the market.
Dr. Kantarjian also points out that prices are this high only the United States because congress passed laws that allow the drug companies to charge whatever they want for cancer medications. By law, medicare and medicaide must pay whatever the drug companies charge.
“We have a pricing system for drugs which is completely dictated by the people who are making the drugs,” says Dr. Peter Bach.
“American patients end up paying two to three times more for the same drug compared to Canadians or Europeans or Australians and others,” says Dr. Kantarjian. “High cancer drug prices are harming patients because either you come up with the money, or you die.”
The interview with Dr. Bach points out how the drug companies give doctors huge “incentives” to prescribe and bill patients full price for these drugs, while the doctors receive massive kickbacks.
While I don’t believe that conventional cancer treatment and drugs are the only way, or the best way, to treat cancer, the law prevents me from giving you alternatives. In fact, our government outlaws and prosecutes the alternatives as soon as it finds them.
Ms. Stall’s interview provides yet another close look into the massive money-making machine that gets cancer patients dependent upon these drugs and then exploits their fears and anxieties to the fullest.
Watch the video here:
A complete transcript of the segment can be found on the CBSnews.com page.
Not only is the video eye-opening, but the comments about it below the article are must-reads.