It is a sad fact of life as a cancer patient that financial concerns are often more overwhelming than worry about the state of your health. The costs of cancer care are excruciatingly high, and conventional wisdom states that it is largely the cost of the specialized medications that are prescribed that make it so. But a new study has just been published that gives a slightly different perspective on what is driving costs up, as well as on how the cost of treating cancer compares to other serious diseases
According to the Community Oncology Alliance, a comparison between the 10-year cost increases of treating cancer vs other serious illnesses has found that the rate of increase was about the same, though cancer costs continue to be higher. It also found that it is indeed the cost of drugs that has increased faster than any other aspect of patient care, and much of that has to do with the increased use of state-of-the-art biologically-based medicines.
Interestingly, the study found that even though the costs of cancer medication have climbed dramatically, their impact on overall cancer costs have been offset by slower growth in other care areas, such as inpatient hospital costs. Perhaps the most illuminating discovery that the study made is the fact that because chemotherapy is moving away from being administered in physicians’ offices, and is instead being provided in hospital outpatient clinics, the costs have risen dramatically.
One of the reasons that cancer care is seen as being more expensive than in the past is that patients are living longer, and treatment periods are longer. The study showed that there were very large increases in overall drug costs, and particularly for chemotherapy and biologics, while the amount of money being spent on inpatient care decreased as patients are being sent home much sooner following surgeries. The survey showed that if chemotherapy had continued to be largely administered in physicians’ offices, the cost per patient would have dropped by roughly 7.5%, dropping average patient annual costs from $56,100 to $51,900.
According to Jonas de Souza, MD, assistant professor of medicine in hematology/oncology at the University of Chicago Medical Center,
“The costs of cancer drugs are increasing exponentially, and site-of-care costs are also increasing It would be really interesting to understand the impact on the patient – in terms of survival, out-of-pocket costs, and financial toxicity – of these increases over the same time trend.”
De Souza says that though it is interesting that other healthcare costs have gone up at roughly the same rate, that is not the same as saying that other health conditions cost what treating cancer does. He points out that the study determined relative increases – not absolute values, and gives the example that a 20% increase in costs for cancer patients means that they rise from $40,000 to $48,000, while for noncancer patients the same 20% increase means their expenditure goes from $10,000 to $12,000.
“Cancer patients are more expensive, and we have short, intermediate, and long-term problems if this pace of cost increases is maintained,” he says.
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