Put patients ahead of profits in health care decisions
By Janet Kline
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about healthcare costs and the cost of new medicines. While it is important that we come up with policies that protect patients, who are paying an increasing share of overall healthcare costs, we must also make sure that we maintain an environment in which medical innovation is encouraged and allowed to thrive.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which holds a special meaning for me as an 11-year cancer survivor. I am a living example of how the amazing progress in medical research is saving lives. My story began 11 years ago when I went in for a routine mammogram. The scan revealed a small lump in my breast, which turned out to be cancerous.
While the diagnosis was scary, the early screening caught the disease early. Though I was still in Stage 1, I had a bilateral mastectomy. Regular screenings and subsequent scans found me to be cancer free for years.
Until I wasn’t.
Four years later, I went in for my regular mammogram, which revealed another lump. My amazing cancer team at UCLA Medical Center immediately wanted to run a new battery of tests. After some arm wrestling with my insurance provider, I eventually had a PET scan, which revealed the cancer had spread to my hip.
In an instant, I had gone from remission to Stage 4.
After days of more tests, it was revealed that my form of cancer was eligible to be treated with a new drug that was just beginning to be offered in clinical trials. Within a year of beginning the treatment, all noticeable signs of the cancer were gone from my body. That was nearly six years ago.
Thanks to this wonder drug, I am back in remission for a second time. I went from a grim prognosis to cancer free, all thanks to this new medicine that would not have been an option had my cancer come just a couple of months earlier.
After years of research and billions of dollars in public and private investment, we are beginning to make progress in our long war against cancer. Drugs are being tailored to very specific forms of cancer and yielding tremendous results. Thanks to this progress, stories like mine are becoming increasingly common as more and more highly tailored treatments find their way to patients who desperately need them. Researchers estimate that 15,000 women are now being treated with the same drug therapy that has helped me.
This type of research takes massive investments of both time and money. It takes years to bring a new drug to market, and there is significant risk involved in this type of research, with no guarantee that companies will ever make their money back.
We must find a way to maintain financial incentives for this exciting research to continue. Without the possibility of an economic payoff, pharmaceutical companies are simply less likely to make the investments needed to produce these life-saving medical breakthroughs.
But patients cannot be expected to bear the costs of these new drugs. The fact is, the growth in overall healthcare costs has slowed dramatically. Unfortunately, these savings have not been passed on to patients and consumers. A study from the Center for American Progress shows that the annual growth rate of employees’ out-of-pocket healthcare expenses was more than double that over real per-capital health care spending.
We need a healthcare system that prioritizes the needs of patients. That means finding ways to ensure that we continue to strive for new medical innovations, while protecting patients from having to pay staggering out-of-pocket costs, which continue to climb faster than overall healthcare expenses.
While there is a need to protect the pocketbooks of patients and healthcare consumers, we must do so in a way that allows medical research to continue, and allows for more survival stories like mine.
As my daughters, husband and I can attest, it is impossible to put a price on the hope these new medicines can offer the thousands of patients who need them.
Janet Klein lives in Los Angeles.