A Wish For World Cancer Day: Higher Drug Prices

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  • 02/04/2015
Today is World Cancer Day.   The goal of this annual event is to generate support and awareness to ensure "all people have the right to access quality, effective cancer treatment and services on equal terms,regardless of geography and without suffering economic hardship as a consequence."

The way to do so: high prices for medicines. 

As Tomas Philipson points out in his op-ed today in Forbes,  the doctors who are only able to pass themselves off as economists because they refuse to debate real economists with real evidence, claim a 'just price' is a price that is... well, less than what they think is 'fair.'   Or a price that is set by government.  Which is one and the same to these faux financial experts.   

But a just price is, as Philipson notes, ithe price that brings better medicines to market that leading to lower prices for health and staying aive.  Which includes eliminating the use of the high priced and much more costly surgical and  hospital based services that enrich the institutions of the would-be economists:

"The current pricing debate is misguided because it is the price of health, and not healthcare, that is the key to patient health. Before a new innovation, the price of better health is effectively infinite for some patients who do not respond to existing treatments because they cannot buy better health. Thus, regardless of price charged for a new treatment it always lowers the marginal price of health for some patient populations. For example, before the breakthrough therapies for HIV in 1996, infected patients could not buy a longer life at any price.  Regardless of the price of the new HIV drugs that came on the market, the price of buying a longer life thus fell. When generics come in, the price of health falls even further but is not captured as returns to the innovators ultimately responsible for it.

What these misperceptions make clear is drug pricing is more complicated than self-interested buyers (Memorial Sloak Kettering, MD Anderson) will have you believe. Although their misguided policy proposals are of course well-intended, if taken seriously they could have very harmful impacts on patients who have no existing options to limit the impact of  their diseases."

These misperceptions persist in large part because their purveyors duck and dodge when asked to debate or discuss in pubiic, one on one.   Rather, they retreat to the security of publications, forums and programs that allow them to manufacturer serious sounding statements that are factually inaccurate and misleading. 

If I didn't know better, I'd say that these pretend economists are afraid to engage directly with Philipson, Frank Lichtenberg,  Tufts's Josh Cohen or anyone else that would challenge their version of the truth.

The danger is that if these opinions become the foundation for pricing policy here, it will reduce investment and ensure that onlly the very rich get access to life saving drugs.   


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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