All cost, no benefit
Picture this: You’re picking up a few household items at Target. In the shampoo aisle, you begin to reach for a bottle of Suave when something catches your eye next to the familiar bottle. It’s a new brand, with a design that looks a lot like the bottle in your hand. The label proclaims that the formula is “exactly the same as Suave!”
“Huh, just like Suave…maybe it’s cheaper,” you think. But no—when you look at the price tag, you find that the new brand is in fact twice as expensive as the one you’re already using.
Who would buy such a thing? A product like this would never survive the market…right?
For Big Pharma this is par for the course. Apparently, twice as expensive, with no added benefits seems like a perfectly reasonable situation in their eyes.
You see the FDA greenlights drugs that are determined to be “safe and effective.” They don’t concern themselves with cost. Which is how a new drug that doesn’t raise survival rates one iota over a drug that already exists—yet costs twice as much as that drug—can end up getting the FDA go-ahead and making it to the market.
I’m talking about cancer drug Zaltrap whose makers haven’t added any real advances to our collective fight against cancer, but stand to make a ton of money all the same.
Under the law, Medicare has to cover every cancer drug approved by the FDA. Medicare isn’t permitted to make a reasonable choice between two drugs that offer the same benefits at vastly different prices. And private insurers must follow suit in most states. So the folks at Sanofi and Regeneron, who are jointly marketing Zaltrap, must have been pleased as punch to get their new drug approved and lined up to start making them money. Cha ching!
But the leadership at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is refusing to play the game. They’ve decided they won’t be giving the astronomically pricey drug to their patients.
They say the decision should be a “no-brainer.” After all, the drug is no better than using Avastin for advanced colorectal cancer. And despite the clear lack of benefit, the price tag is twice as high. We’re talking an average of $11,063 for a month of treatment.
For the Cancer Center, enough was enough. They saw that Zaltrap works in a similar way as Avastin, with comparable side effects, and offers the same survival benefits. And here is that benefit: Use of either medication only gets a patient an average of 1.4 months added to his life. We’re not even talking about beating the cancer here.
And for a person on Medicare, a month’s worth of treatment with Zaltrap could also cost more than half their monthly income.
But of course, “new” automatically means “better” to many people, so the Cancer Center’s move, rather than being celebrated as a much-needed line in the sand for Big Pharma, is coming under fire. They’ve been accused of rationing care.
Well, I for one applaud their choice to stand up against a system that’s spiraling out of control. The system is broken, and it’s going to take the brave action of leaders at cancer centers and hospitals across the country to make a move toward fixing it. Sloan-Kettering is a highly respected facility, and hopefully their move will inspire other hospitals to stand up against the crippling cost of health care.
P.S. I’m thrilled to see a hospital standing up against the rising cost of health care, but I’m not holding my breath for them to take up the fight for natural and alternative cancer-fighting options. That one’s still up to us. Our friends and affiliates at Agora health Books are helping to lead that fight. To learn more about how to fight cancer and win, click here.
“In Cancer Care, Cost Matters,” The New York Times (nytimes.com)
“Rational Or Rationing? Saying No To A Cancer Med,” Pharmalot (pharmalot.com)