Covering less effective drugs
USA TODAY’s story implies that because most new drugs don’t “cure” cancer for most patients, they shouldn’t be so expensive. In fact, from 1975 to 1995, new cancer drugs increased the life expectancy of people diagnosed with cancer by about one year. From 1995 until today, death from cancer has been declining faster than at any other time in history.
USA TODAY bases its assertion that most new drugs don’t extend life on studies that tested drugs designed for specific groups from the results of one-size-fits-all studies. But lives are extended and enhanced by matching the right drug to the right patient well before the disease advances.
Maybe someone should have looked at an earlier USA TODAY story titled “Experimental drug stuns cancer doctors” (News, May 16, 2005). It describes Revlimid, which costs thousands a month and is a drug that targets a certain genetic mutation that causes a hitherto incurable blood disorder more common than leukemia is. Revlimid is nearly 100% effective in two-thirds of patients with the disease. It eliminates ineffective, equally expensive and debilitating blood transfusions.
USA TODAY wonders why people have to shell out money for cancer drugs. It should have asked why health plans cover the entire cost of cheaper and less effective drugs but not Avastin.
Robert Goldberg, Vice President
Center for Medicine in the Public Interest New York