What do you do when you’re 71 years old, battling blood cancer, and find out that your cost for the medication that is treating your cancer has gone from $60/month to $1051/month? Helen Geiger had to stop taking the cancer medication Thalomid for several months last year while her family and doctors appealed the insurance company – to no avail – and finally found a prescription assistance program that is providing the medication at no charge.
The cost of cancer treatment is rising at 15% a year. For patients with health insurance, the increase is tempered by the fact that the insurance carrier normally picks up most of the cost, although even insured patients are seeing higher copays for pricier drugs. But for patients without health insurance – who are more likely to succumb to their cancer – the cost of treatment can be an insurmountable hurdle.
At Colorado Health Insurance Insider, we’ve written about the ins and outs of drug pricing for deadly diseases like cancer. Nobody is asking the pharmaceutical companies to become charities, but does the CEO of Celgene Corporation (the company that makes Thalomid) really need more than $16 million a year in compensation? There is something very wrong with the way the pharmaceutical industry (and indeed, the whole health care industry) works in this country. The drugs in question are often what stand between a patient and the grave. We are not talking about drugs for erectile dysfunction or facial wrinkles. It would seem that these patients don’t have a choice but to take the drugs – since the alternative is usually death – and yet more and more of them are indeed facing a choice. Bankruptcy (for them and their families) or a chance to live another day. Pretty grim stuff.
As long as health care in the US remains a for-profit industry, people will continue to face this sort of dilemma. And even patients with health insurance – like Helen Geiger – who think that they are insulated from the spiraling costs of high-tech treatments could be in for a nasty surprise.