Help With the Costs of Targeted Drugs

CURE, Winter 2015, Volume 14, Issue 1

Targeted drugs for cancer can be extremely expensive. What help is there for patients who can't support that cost?

Q: Targeted drugs for cancer can be extremely expensive. What help is there for patients who can’t support that cost?

A: As new targeted cancer drugs become available, cost becomes an increasingly important issue for many patients and their treatment teams. The drugs do bring benefit—sometimes where there was little to offer previously—but come with a price tag that can be out of reach for many.

For patients with adequate insurance, the problem may not be acute. But for others, the question is whether one can afford the drugs and whether they are worth the price.

Patients need to know that there are some things they can do to soften the burden.

First, have an open discussion with your oncology team. For some, these drugs are truly lifesavers and options may be limited. But in other cases, the most expensive drug may not be the best place to start. The advantage offered may be minimal and, increasingly, there are other drugs available which may be effective yet less expensive. Finally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering whether equivalent targeted therapies for some of the older drugs—called biosimilars—can be offered in the United States, at what is likely to be a lower cost. Ask your doctor about different treatments and be honest about your concerns. It is important to understand your insurance, what it covers, and what it does not.

It is easier to go for a less expensive plan when you are feeling well. But as we get older, our risk of serious disease increases along with the cost of the care and the medicines that may be required. Be prudent with your choices. The least expensive plan may not be the best choice—if you are in a position financially to make such a decision.

Organizations like the American Cancer Society provide information on programs that might help you get drugs at a substantially lower or no cost, depending on your personal financial circumstances and insurance plan. The Patient Advocate Foundation, Cancer- Care and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also may be able to help. And pharmaceutical companies have programs to help those in need with obtaining these very expensive medications.

So, when faced with a difficult choice, don’t despair. Have the conversations and make the calls. You can start by dialing our call center at 800-227-2345, anytime. There may well be a solution if you are willing to make the effort.

—Len Lichtenfeld, MD, is deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Send House Call questions to editor@curetoday.com.