Got Cancer? Got a Million in the Bank?

pharamcy money


In any given year in America, your ticker will give out before anything else does. Ergo, heart disease, year in, year out, generally makes funeral home owners richer than any other health effect. A close number two is perhaps the scariest word in the English language, cancer.

It can attack more than 60 organs in the body and rests at a firmly the entrenched runner-up spot in the conclusion of life department. That includes leukemia or “cancer of the blood.” Lung and respiratory problems are high on the death-list as well and with right-wing legislative indifference to our poisoned land, air and water, I’m sure will continue to make great strides in killing those who happen to be in the wrong place (America) at the wrong time (now, and as long as Republicans reign).

But it’s cancer that’s captured my attention today. Maybe because it’s somewhat personal in that a good friend of mine has been fighting leukemia for decades. Without spelling out the whys and wherefores of his two forms of leukemia, suffice to say that they can both kill you dead; one with great certitude, the other more insidiously. One form has been laying low for many years. He’s been treated actively for the other for the 13 years, with no signs of anything for the last 3 years. The treatment has been both successful and FREE! Up until just recently that is. It was free because my pal was chosen to be part of a clinical trial population. That trial has ended and the price will leap to around $7,500 monthly.

That’s where my story begins. Or more specifically, the story many of Politicus’ visitors can recount in agonizing detail in their own lives. My story is about the giant life and death rip-off that is the retail costs of cancer medications. Let’s start with the fact that the pharmaceuticals can afford to provide meds for clinical trials for nothing. They make enough money with their other products to conduct these mandatory trials, gratis. Then, if they work, they’ll make up trial costs thousands of times over.

It wasn’t always so. I’ll certainly concede that R & D can be an expensive process though I suspect a majority of pharmaceutical advances piggy-back meds technology that somebody else (NIH most likely) paid for many decades ago, and as I believe I’ve written before on these pages, new products are often little more than ‘tweaked’ for a relative song, then sold with outrageous price tags.

The nitty gritty of cancer meds is that when you’re dealing with dying, desperate people, you can hose them out of every last penny they’re worth. They’ll sell their house, car(s), hit up loved ones; anything to keep occupying this planet. Top management of big pharmas have long recognized how much cancer-ridden, John and Jane Doe are willing to ante up if they think they can buy another few precious months or maybe even years.

ABC News did a nice piece a few months ago that revealed that prices for cancer drugs have doubled in the last decade. They used to average $5,000 per month or around $60,000 a year. Combining numerous sources, the fact is that about 10% of the population makes that much money. Therefore, a still living subset of cancer sufferers can pay the snake oil people all of their earnings and live in a cardboard box under the bridge. No state comes closer than $45,000 a year per capita income.

So the $5,000 monthly average cancer med price has now doubled to $10,000 a month or $120,000 a year. That’s the average price. The highest average individual state HOUSEHOLD income would miss that mark by about 50 grand. Remember, we’re talking end-of-life here; watching the grandkids, tending the flowers, talking to friends, petting the dog; the supposedly mundane interlocking life’s events that give pleasure and a sense of being. For most people, even two to three extra months is worth a king’s ransom.

Every once in a while, Uncle Sam will come sniffing around a pharma lab, asking the same questions we’re all asking. And Uncle gets answers. Lies, but answers. The pharmaceuticals claim an average of one billion dollars to develop a drug and bring it to market. Honest experts in the field call that a fabrication in the neighborhood of roughly $910 million. I would suspect a lion’s share of the $90 million actually spent, goes to the kind of marketing you see on TV, morning, noon and night.

There is also the matter of chemists and biologists involved in the workup of the drug. Sometimes it can, indeed, take a decade to get a drug ready for sale. But bear in mind, for the biggies, the chemists and biologists are already on staff, much like lawyers on retainers. Plus development time varies widely. Nobody is begrudging the fact that drug companies deserve a little sugar for their efforts. Generics are only obligated to guarantee the ingredients, effects and dosages of the original. They can save money in the form of coloration and size of pills, packaging and assorted other steps that don’t involve the physiological impact of the drug. And there’s the fiscal factor of coming off a patent and opening the field to competitors.

On the other hand, you do know that Canada pays considerably less for the same drugs than we do, don’t you? That’s because the Canadian government regulates drug prices. And it’s not exactly a liberal government up North. Regulates! Yet, the giant drug companies still sell the Canadians all that they’ll buy. At a profit! The National Health Service in Britain is essentially free. Few drugs will cost more than $12 a prescription. For that ‘free’ service, British citizens pay a tax. It’s roughly 4.5% of their income, or 18% of their taxes. Insured American citizens pay an extra thousand a year just in shoring up charitable cases. British residents live longer, healthier lives while spending a fraction of the U.S. total for health care. About 10% of the health care system comes from private doctor and insurance sources.

Part of the extraordinarily high costs of U.S. cancer meds can be attributed to the fact that these are brand name drugs you’re paying for, not generics. That’s why it’s vital to keep our eye on the recent fast track trade agreements that are banging at the door of Congress. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, wants to lengthen the period that pharmas can hold off generics.

It’s also comforting to know that TPP can form a blockade to deny certain generics to a sick population in life-saving need of affordable drugs. A little research will yield a big-pharma rush to buy or merge with certain foreign drug companies that can accomplish under TPP what U.S. companies cannot. Prices can be raised at will and the more expensive patents can be stretched out for years and years.

Expect an all-out assault on generics that critics insist could pull the rug out from under the U.S. health care safety nets of Medicaid and Medicare and will have grave consequences for the veteran’s population that Republicans purport to love.

Remember, the polls (where you vote) are mightier than the corporate sword of greed.

14 Replies to “Got Cancer? Got a Million in the Bank?”

  1. This planet needs to shed a lot of people if it will survive with those that remain. Are there underlying currents of population control inherent in the policies that are seemingly inhumane, financially out-of-reach, and overwhelmingly inaccessible to the unfortunates?

  2. Ah is that the infamous Sarah Palin death Panels I hear above? It takes about $3,000 a month in medication for me to live as well as I do. Having said that I don’t think I want some one else judging my worthiness to remain alive or not.

  3. I’m getting ready to start treatment and one of the drugs, a new drug for what I have, is $1000.00 per pill. I have to do 84 days of treatment with that drug.

    Total treatment time will be 24 weeks with Interferon and another drug that can be obtained as a generic, I’m not sure what they cost.

    That is a lot of money and I would have no way to pay for that if it weren’t for the ACA, I would just get sick and die because I couldn’t afford to live.

    I know this isn’t an article about the PPACA, but thank goodness for President Obama, if he weren’t elected President, I would be left to die. If treatment is successful, the doctor says I could easily live for another 10-15 years and without treatment, maybe five at the outside.

  4. Many are deciding as my ex did, as a childless (our son is grown) adult in WI who lost his health ins for being too sick to work in Walker’s WI. He died a slow, terrible death this Feb. without any cancer treatment at all. He didn’t live long enough for Obamacare and Walker abolished the Medicaid list for childless adults years ago.

  5. This IS the issue. Having your life-saving medical costs covered.

    Dennis – there is no TPP. You’ve not heard the president give a single speech about it for YEARS and not one since the negotiations ended. The bill is S. 1900. Read it because I doubt if there are barriers to imported drugs that the president wants it anymore. When he wants something, he travels the nation stumping for it. He’s not doing a single thing about TPP, it’s not up for a vote, nada.

    So the issue for all of us is pushing forward on regulating MORE of Pharma’s costs than we have now. And we do have a lot. But we need to be proactive because if we actually do regain the House we have a chance to do this more broadly. The construction of ACA is designed like that of Germany, and regulation of costs is essential to that form of universal care.

    We don’t have to take this. We CAN do something about it. But it takes voting in November and taking back our government. Sorry Tea Party – you can’…

  6. I’ve had untreated hbp for 6 yrs and my mother died of an anyeurism at an early age and my father had multiple bypasses. I also have really devastating depression and anxiety. I was treated for both of these six years ago and it’s hard to keep a job that pays half of what it used to. I got Obamacare a couple of months ago and nobody will see me until November at the earliest, as lucky as I feel to have it.

  7. I don’t know why you can’t find anyone to see you until November, I’m sorry, but that’s just kind of hard to believe. I had no problem whatsoever finding a doctor and I live in a more rural area of Illinois.

    Have you tried any local clinics, or have you just tried to get in to see doctors in private practice?

  8. You must be seen and treat your high blood pressure, even if it’s at a clinic or possibly a pharmacy clinic. They can write prescriptions for antihypertensives that cost as low as 4.00 per month on the Walmart plan. They will probably start with one med and add more after re-evaluation, but almost every class of blood pressure med is available for 4.00 per month ( no insurance needed). Please do this and the sooner the better. Take care!

  9. Thanks for your concern. Yes, the meds I was taking were cheap. My Obamacare plan I chose is with a network I have worked with before and they have several clinics in my small city. My car is very, very bad but I called the main number and nobody can see me for a physical until November. I tried to get in for a hbp check and I’ll admit I got pretty upset and started talking about the depression and they told me to go to the er “because clinics aren’t set up for that” and wouldn’t make an appointment at all. This was a couple of weeks ago and I’m afraid if I call back I’ll start crying again.

  10. @Jeanne-Marie. I feel for you. There has to be an option for you. Keep calling, try to talk to a triage nurse. If you can, document your BP readings so they know how serious it is. Sometimes you have to be a “squeaky wheel” Lastly, many medicals schools have student-run clinics that can help. And 1 more thing, if it’s ever greater than 180/110, go to ER and they have to treat you. Hope that helps!

  11. I wonder what happens to the money collected by charities such as Susan B. Komen? I know the top people take large amounts off the top, but isn’t the rest supposed to help patients with cancer? So many years these so-called “charities” have been operating, taking in Billions, why no cure? All the major hospitals in this area have recently built large, expensive cancer centers. Makes me think there will never be a cure, it is too lucrative.

  12. The “giant life and death rip-off that is the retail costs of cancer medications” is but one aspect of the highly lucrative mainstream medicine business with cancer many call a fraud (read through this: ).

    The main reason for the expensive US healthcare system is that it is a disease system not a health system, profits are in repeat, or maintained, sickness conditions.

    There is no distinction between the government and corporate cartels.

Comments are closed.