Francis Bacon was perhaps the first scholar to note that we are all guilty of confirmation bias. He observed that “the human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it.”
Confirmation bias explains the synergistic relationship between so-called studies that look at drug pricing, the media attention paid to these articles and the virtual absence of reporting on studies looking at the ecosystem for treating cancer.
Two articles on the price of oral cancer drugs – one in JAMA and the other in Health Affairs are examples of this disease.
The articles look only at the list price of cancer drugs over 10 years.
They could have looked at the increase in the list price of non-drug cancer care (which has increased as well) but they didn’t.
Nor will you find any discussion of the fact the over the time periods studied, increased use of oral cancer drugs was associated with a decline in hospitalization and outpatient spending associated with increased use in oral oncology.
There are hundreds of articles reporting on these studies that with rare exception (Ed Silverman at STAT) note that the ‘studies’ do consider drug prices in context. In particular, confirmation bias has lead researchers and reporters alike to ignore other economic and clinical factors impacting the cost – and – value of cancer drugs:
A recent IMS Oncology report – largely ignored by the same journalists writing about the two articles -- found that utilization, not price, was the main driver of spending on cancer drugs with longevity of patients a key driver of use.
Targeted therapies (not including rebates, patient assistance support, etc. ) now account for almost 50% of total spending and they have been growing at a compound average growth rate of 14.6% over the past five years
Overall therapy treatment costs per month have increased 39% over the past ten years in in inflation- adjusted terms, similar to the 42% increase in overall response rates and 45% increase in months that patients are on therapy, which also contribute to higher overall spending levels associated with improved survival rates. http://www.imshealth.com/imshealth-web-aux/controller/getReport
2. The increase in use of targeted therapies w diagnostics are associated with an increase in duration of response and survival. In fact, the use of oral cancer drugs is associated with a 150 percent increase in treatment duration.
3. Neither article accounts for the fact that newest oral cancer drugs are targeting smaller groups of patients based on tumor subtype and mutational status.
4. Neither article noted that over the same period they were obsessing about drug prices, cancer costs increased at the same rate as overall health spending. Another well-ignored Milliman study found
Over the entire 2004 to 2014 study period, the average annual increase in cost was essentially the same in the actively treated cancer population and the non-cancer population.
Cancer prevalence increased from 2004 to 2014 more than the contribution of cancer patients’ cost to the total population spend.
For patients being actively treated, the portion of spending for cancer-directed pharmaceuticals increased from 2004 to 2014 while the portion of spending for inpatient care declined.
Finally, the articles ignored yet another study showing the increase in rebates as a percent of price increases. The chart below shows the rebates as a percent of gross sales for Bristol Myers as it introduced immunotherapies for cancer.
“As people's opportunities to succumb to confirmation bias increases online - only seeking out information that confirms their prejudices - ignorance, extremism and close-mindedness have continued to rise unabated.” Maajid Nawaz