Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development


The rising costs of health care have left many families facing huge bills if they do not have medical insurance. Often, people lose their jobs and have to make harsh choices about what they can afford to pay for; rent, utilities and food will often have a higher priority than medical insurance, as this article in the Clarion Ledger clearly showed. 

That's fine if you or a family member doesn't get sick with cancer or need ER care for a major accident, for example, but if you do then be warned paying for treatment as an individual may cost you significantly more than if you had the expensive insurance because the plans negotiate the best prices based on large volume discounts. 

My own small business health plan costs almost as much as the mortgage payments, which is a shocking amount; not everyone can afford to pay that.  In a society that claims to offer one of the best health care systems in the world, it essentially creates a two-tier system – those that can afford it and those that can't.  Forty to 50 million Americans don't have health insurance, putting their own health at risk and increasing the tax burden on those that do.  In the recent Presidential debates, the issue of whether basic health care is a right or a responsibility came up.  Either way, the system is broke and badly needs fixing.

The National Brain Tumor Foundation issued a white paper last year entitled 'No one can afford a brain tumor' and looks at the financial impact on patients and their families.  This is a useful document and easily apply to any type of cancer.

Treatment for common cancers such as breast and colorectal tumours can set you back $100-250K with multiple treatments.  The NY Times reported on the spiralling costs of chemotherapy and new targeted tretaments for cancer in 2005.  The cost is now more than many people in the US pay for a house and if you don't have coverage you have stark choices – risk going bankrupt, pay up or decline treatment.  What kind of humane society is that?  In these tough economic times, it may not be your fault if you get made redundant. 

My conclusion?  If you don't have health care coverage in the US and get cancer, it will potentially wipe you out.  No one wants to have their precious savings and house lost to save a life.  That's unconscionable in this day and age.  


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4 Responses to “Blog Action Day – can getting cancer make you poor?”

  1. Ann Godridge

    Here in the UK, there is some fear that we will effectively get a two tier health care system, if those people who can afford it are allowed to top up and buy the more expensive drugs that aren’t approved by NICE.
    At the same time we have a perception that in the US, at least for the middle classes, you get better and more up to date health care.
    Thanks for putting it into perspective – somehow NICE seems to be doing quite a good job dealing with difficult decisions.

  2. Sarah Arrow

    Great article Sally, and like Ann says it really puts things into perspective.
    I had a relative who lived in Florida, he had a small amount of insurance and then he had to have a pacemaker fitted. At the age of 70 he incurred a £270k debt.
    He had to sell everything, and then he moved back to Scotland.

  3. Ida Horner

    growing up in Uganda I saw so many people die of “open wounds” and we did not connect that to skin cancer! And of course these people ahd no money to go and seek proper medical care

  4. Sally

    Ladies, thank you for all of your comments.
    Ann, in many ways the NHS is already a two tier system because it has the postal code lottery. If the local PAC doesn’t have a new cancer drug on formulary despite approval from the EMEA and NICE, then patients will be denied access. Thus someone in Sunderland could be treated differently from someone in Brighton. Right or wrong, there has to be some way of managing limited resources more fairly.
    Sarah, stories like that make me cry, they really do. Health care should be a right in western civilisation.
    Ida, good point indeed. The challenge is not only one of payment but also of education.

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