I’ve complained about CMS/Medicare many times in previous posts, but this time they deserve praise. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell floated a proposal to allow Medicare to change how it pays for cancer drugs.
According to an aritcle in the New York Times, ALL members of the Senate Finance Committee signed a letter to Ms. Burwell stating their concerns about the proposal. This is great evidence of bipartisan spinelessness.
The American Cancer Society was quoted as commenting that the proposal, “does not protect cancer patients’ access to lifesaving drugs to treat their disease.” The fact is that most of the new ridiculously expensive cancer drugs don’t cure disease, they just add a few months of reasonable quality of life.
The push back comes right when a study in Health Affairs again documents how often patented drug price inflation exceeds all other common inflation indexes. This study concluded that for cancer drugs, patients’ costs increased 5% per year, prices rose 10% for each new FDA indication, and dropped 2% with the FDA’s approval of a competitor’s drug.
This tension might be the ultimate test of whether we can ever bring healthcare cost inflation under control. Every other developed country can say this to cancer doctors, advocates, and patients, at least to a degree, which we can’t: I’m sorry our health service can’t provide that cancer drug. It doesn’t do very much and it is just simply too expensive. It’s not fair to everyone else.