Health Wonk Review: Oncologists Tell the Truth about Cancer Drugs; Will There Be Enough Plans to Choose From in the Exchanges? What Does Oregon’s Research on Medicaid Tell Us? And More . . .

The newest edition of Health Wonk Review  is up on Managed Care Matters.

There, host Joe Paduda calls attention to an eye-opening post by The Health Business Group’s David E. Williams. 

Williams reports on what oncologists say about cancer drugs in “The Price of Drugs for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML); A Reflection of the Unsustainable Prices of Cancer Drug.” The article, which was published in the journal, blood, includes candid comments from more than 100 experts  They tell us  that:.

  • Many costly treatments aren’t worth the money
  • New treatments with tiny orno benefits often cost a multiple of existing therapies
  • Despite their reputation for penny-pinching, health plans are often not aggressive in negotiating price
  • Patients are already suffering mightily from high costs –and it impacts quality of life and survival as well as financial health
  • Society as a whole cannot afford to pay the high prices charged for so many of the new therapies

 (I’m reminded of “A Very Open Letter from an Oncologist published on HealthBeat in 2009.)  It’s encouraging to see more oncologist stepping forward to telll the truth about cancer drugs..)

.As Williams observes these insights “come from people who know what they’re talking about and who have traditionally been sympathetic to drug makers and unperturbed about costs.”  

But now, the companies that make these drugs have taken greed too far.

 Paduda also highlights Health Affairs just-released research indicating that the decline in inflation could result in a reduction of $770 billion (yup, that’s “billion” with a B) in public program health care costs over ten years. “

But is the trend sustainable? John Holahan and Stacy McMorrow of the Urban Institute are “cautiously optimistic.” Paduda agrees: “there’s no question there are fundamental changes occurring that are affecting care delivery, pricing, and reimbursement.”

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Join the debate on “Reining in Medicare Costs without Hurting Seniors”

The January 26 post below (“How to Rein in Medicare costs without Hurting Seniors“) has drawn some 43 comments (including mine, as I responded to readers). I thought of turning a couple of my replies into posts, but then decided it might be more interesting for you to read them in the context of what other readers said.

I would love to see more readers participate in this thread. Comments are still open.

It’s a lively thread that takes on a number of third-rail issues: Does Medicare spend too much on pricey cancer drugs, end-of-life care and brand name hospitals?

 Should we try to spend less on end-of life care? Many say “Yes,” but Zeke Emanuel (a medical ethicist and oncologist who was part of the Obama team during the president’s first term), says “No.” I link to a column where he notes that “It is conventional wisdom that end-of-life care is an increasingly huge proportion of health care spending. . . Wrong. Here are the real numbers: end-of-life care (not just for the elderly, but for all Americans) accounts for just 10% to 12% of  total health care spending. This figure has not changed significantly in decades.”

He goes on to suggest that while we probably can’t make end-of-life “cheaper,” we can make it “better . . .  Here are four things the health care system should do to try to improve care for the dying, even if they won’t save money.”

A number of readers comment on what is driving Medicare spending. Is it “patient expectations,”  “doctors’ fear of litigation,”  “regulations that dictate nurse-staffing ratios,” “practice patterns that doctors learned long ago,” or is the biggest problem “promotional efforts by manufacturers?”

Other questions come up: Does anyone really have any idea how much Medicare will cost in 2022?  By then will Medicare have begun negotiating with drug-makers and device-makers for discounts on drugs (the way the VA does now, saving 40%)?  How far will Medicare go in using medical evidence to decide what to cover?

One doctor/reader points out that in his field Medicare has begun to refuse to pay for procedures when research shows that they are not effective. He and another reader agree that in this way Medicare can provide “political cover” for private sector insurers who will follow Medicare’s lead.

We also discuss the deficit, and whether we should be trying to address the deficit now — or wait until the recession ends and unemployment falls. Also, is the deficit already dissolving as CAP suggests? 

And is the deficit our biggest problem? On this question, you will find links to Paul Krugman, Peter Orszag (who analyzes the slow-down in health care spending over the past three years as a “structural change, not just the result of the recession) and Ezra Klein,

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