In his July 31 blog, "Drugs and Dollars," David Blumenthal, president of The Commonwealth Fund, writes about the cost of new targeted medical therapeutics. He sees the advantages of these new treatments but warns that, "the prospect of spending so much on a single agent for a single condition has galvanized concern over future drug costs. That concern is justified. Historically, increasing pharmaceutical expenditures have helped drive up overall health care costs."
No, Mr. Blumenthal, that concern is not justified. As a cancer patient who was diagnosed with a rare high-risk blood cancer in 2009, I take issue with your conclusion.
I have been on an oral regimen for my blood cancer for over five years and have shown no sign of the cancer for over four years. I spend my days working out, standing in front of college classrooms as a teacher, earning money, paying my bills, insurance premiums, taxes and benefiting society. Far from "driving up overall health care costs," my at-home treatment keeps me out of the hospital where I would risk infection, lose time and be a far more expensive burden on the health care system.
I am part of an organization called My Life Is Worth It. As cancer patients, we want a seat at the table when decisions are made regarding allocation of medical resources and when a transformational treatment that can save lives is deemed "too expensive" and we patients and doctors are denied access to the best and most effective therapies. We want those decisions on our care to be based on fact, not conjecture and innuendo that is often orchestrated by the insurance industry that wants to delay and deny care to patients with chronic diseases purely for self-serving economic reasons.
• According to cms.gov, innovative cancer therapies account for less than 1 percent of total health care spending.
• Cms.gov also writes that for less than 1 percent of health care spending, new cancer medicines are responsible for 75 percent of the 52 million additional life-years people with cancer have gained since 1990. The value of those life-years is estimated to be about $5 trillion according to the Journal of Political Economy.
But don't just take my word for it.
A recent New York Times article understands the outcry over expensive drugs like Sovaldi, but acknowledges that "maybe we are looking at the costs of Sovaldi in the wrong way." Yes, these expensive one-time upfront treatments like Sovaldi can be a shock to the health care system, but consider their value over time. The article states, for all the panic, the crisis will soon wane... The PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates show big costs for treating hepatitis C over the next two years, but then a sharp decline as the untreated population dwindles and patients that received the medication are cured and avoid expensive liver transplant procedures which often fail at the cost of a patient's life.
Given the choice between taking a pill at home that is almost 100-percent effective that costs about $100,000 and being carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey during a risky medical procedure that works only 50 percent of the time that costs up to almost $600,000, the choice is very clear.
And an article in Forbes titled "Politicians Shouldn't Question Drug Costs," they ask us to consider "the value that the drug brings to health care in terms of 1) saving lives, 2) mitigating pain/suffering, 3) improving the quality of life for patients and 4) reducing overall health care costs" through the development of innovative care.
This outcry that targeted therapeutics will break the bank just doesn't ring true. To those who value insurance industry profits over our access and choice in health care, let me put it simply and directly:
Our lives ARE worth it -- to us, our families and friends, to the health care system and to society at large.