Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The One Hundred Dollar Pill

The LA Times runs a story about the extremely high cost of recent cancer therapies approved by FDA. The reporters focus on dollar cost per month of additional life from some of the newest approaches to fighting malignant diseases. Is it worth eight grand a month for five or six more months with a terminal illness?

Setting a price for putting off death: The drugs' sky-high costs compared with their relatively small health benefits have sparked arguments among policymakers and medical professionals about what to do with the growing number of people who are depleting their life savings on the drugs or, worse, who can't get them at all. … Last year, cancer deaths fell for a second straight year. ... But those gains have to be taken in context of what else the money spent on cancer treatment could have been used for, said Peter Neumann, director of the Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk at Tufts-New England Medical Center. "In terms of the cost of a life saved, it's possible other areas of medicine, like better disease prevention or better cardiovascular care, may be more effective."

Longevity and money are the foci around which the coming political debate about healthcare will pivot. Proponents of increasing government control of health spending will take examples of $35,000 per year treatments and play to the emotions described by the following economist.

The Marginal Cost and Marginal Benefit of Cancer Drugs: More generally, to me life is not just another good to be allocated by the price system and it bothers me that how long you live may depend upon how much wealth you manage to inherit or accumulate. I don't know for sure how to fix this problem, but there is a part of me that believes that where life and death is concerned, everyone, rich and poor alike, should have access to the same care and treatment options.

The MSM can not be trusted to explain why it is very good that 'state of the art' therapy starts expensive before eventually becoming widespread and affordable. Modern medicine is the result of a remarkable balance achieved in western capitalistic economies. Risk and investment are protected and rewarded for limited periods of time, after which the proven treatments are opened up to market competition. Future generations benefit because the pursuit of knowledge pays off. GlaxoSmithKline's Tykerb is going to cost about $100 per pill. It is not going to be that price forever, but it needs to be that price right now if the public wants business to keep trying to find ways to defeat cancers.