CHICAGO - Cancer doctors should consider the financial as well as the medical impact of treatment for patients as healthcare costs continue to grow faster than the overall economy, according to experts in Chicago at the annual meeting of the world's largest organisation of oncologists.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology is developing a system to rate drugs for advanced cancer based on a combination of benefit, side effects and price. The cost of such drugs can easily run into tens of thousands of dollars a year, even though many have been shown to extend the lives of later-stage cancer patients by just a few months.
"The problem is that the current system is unsustainable because it threatens access to high-quality cancer care," said Dr. Neal Meropol, chief of hematology and oncology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
The price issue has led some doctors to balk. In April 2013, more than 100 leukemia specialists complained in the American Society of Hematology's journal "Blood" that cancer drug prices were "too high, unsustainable, may compromise access of needy patients to highly effective therapy and are harmful to the sustainability of our national healthcare systems." Insurers are looking to partner with doctors to reduce the chance of unnecessary spending. "There are therapies that have high value and there are therapies that may not have much value," said Lee Newcomer, a senior vice president at UnitedHealth Group Inc.
He noted insurance companies' motives are viewed with suspicion when it comes to deciding whether a treatment is cost-effective, so having ASCO play a key role in establishing such guidelines would be crucial to their implementation.