One problem with Health Reform–Big Pharma

The fastest growing expense for health insurers is drug costs. We use more drugs and pay more than any other place in the world.

New drugs for treating cancer were in the hundreds of dollars/treatment in the 70’s and early 80’s. Now these drugs cost two orders of magnitude more (upwards of $10,000/month) without inducing cures or lengthy remissions in most situations.

You might ask well why then are people with cancer living longer. Isn’t this from the expensive treatments we’re paying for? No!

We are now diagnosing disease earlier through aggressive screening programs. This introduces what is called lead time bias. Which means people will live longer, in part, because of the difference in survival time between earlier diagnosed disease and a more extensive later disease. This “survival” benefit accrues without any treatment.

The second factor is that disease diagnosed earlier may be more curable. That is, a smaller more localized disease is more likely to be cured than a later advanced disease. Furthermore, many of these early tumors, counted in the survival statistics, are inherently benign in behavior and would never threaten the life of the patient.

Medicynical Note: Meanwhile we pay more, get modest benefits and the drug companies love it. See this in Time magazine.

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