Clear-Eyed Coverage About New Medicines

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  • 08/14/2006

I am quck to criticize awful reporting about medicine and medical innovation and I try to be even faster in pointing people to the best reporting on the same issues…So I apologize for not writing sooner about about Jeff Donn’s thoughtful and often moving article “Costly Drugs Force Life-Death Decisions” which hit the AP wires this past weekend.

Jeff acknowledges the value of breakthrough medicines but contrasts it with how we deal with an insurance system that fails to recognize or value them similarly or requires people to make life or death decisions about using medicines that can extend life by forcing people to pay a percentage of the cost of a new medicine (never requiring people to make the same contribution to after the fact and less effective hospital care) He writes about a woman who rather than paying nearly $20 k of the cost of Erbitux decided to refuse treatment….

“In her six decades, she had shared in a long marriage, raised three children, worked in a nursing home, painted as a hobby â and wasn’t ready to leave it all behind. But she was also a careful spender who sometimes returned new clothes to the store, deciding she didn’t really need them.

Maybe this new drug, Erbitux, could extend her life by a small fraction, but she wouldn’t be cured. “She was just very frugal, and she said it wasn’t worth it,” her husband Larry remembers.

So she refused the treatment.”

This is a complicated area — insurance has not caught up to the realities of the new technology of medicine and the new technology itself — shifting towards targeted therapies that work well in some but not everybody — is still changing clinical practice and pricing patterns which themselves are tied to outdated ways in which drugs are developed and market expectation…At the same time, it is clear the newer therapies are allowing us to live longer and better lives which cumulatively allows us to be a more productive and humane society…

Jeff Donn manages — in a relatively short article — to capture all these issues. Link to the article is here:


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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