When my sister told me she had to pay $4,000 for a pill to help her body deal with the effects of chemo she was receiving for breast cancer, I thought we had a bad phone connection. Surely it didn’t cost $4,000 for one little pill. To my dismay, I found out it really does. Not only that, a lot of cancer treatments are costing much more than they were even a few years ago.
According to a recent article by Donald W. Light, a network fellow at Harvard University’s E. J. Safra Center for Ethics and a professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Hagop Kantarjian, chair of the Department of Leukemia at MD Anderson Cancer Center, drug companies believe the higher prices are necessary. Pharmaceutical companies say that the new drugs are improved, but oncologists disagree. The doctors say there are few clinical advantages of the new medicine over existing drugs.
The other justification for higher prices of all kinds of medicine is the cost of research and development. In the article Light and Kantarjian wrote for the AARP Bulletin, they dispelled this justification as well.
Overall, investment in basic research by pharmaceutical companies to discover new drugs is quite small – about one-sixth of overall company research costs and about 1.3 percent of revenues after deducting for taxpayer subsidies.
Research for cancer drugs specifically is paid for by the National Cancer Institute and various foundations, yet the price of cancer drugs has doubled in the past decade.
The authors conclude the article with a call to congress to hold hearings on the rising costs of specialty drugs and allow Medicare to negotiate discount drug prices. They believe bringing down the cost of drugs and treatments could cut health care costs.
Closing With a Literary Lesson: This is from Laura Lippman’s novel, Life Sentences when a character is reflecting on how a white friend thought about the weekend that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, “She hadn’t known, couldn’t know what had gone on in the living rooms and kitchens of black folks’ homes that horrible weekend, the fear and grief and terror of it all. As Donna said, she meant no harm. But Tisha knew that people who meant no harm were often the most dangerous people of all, the real tar babies from which one might never disentangle.”