The rising cost of cancer care in the United States is increasingly being passed on to patients, some of whom defer or skip treatments because they can’t afford them, says the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), which is seeking more help to address the issue.
The society’s primary focus is to get stakeholders — including pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefit managers, insurers, healthcare providers, and other patient advocacy organizations — to bring about changes to counteract care costs that are projected to reach $173 billion by next year, a 39% increase from a decade ago.
While the nonprofit organization has made significant inroads over the years in enhancing access to coordinated and top-shelf care for lymphoma and other patients, it says more needs to be done to keep pace with rising costs.
“Too many cancer patients are forced to make life-or-death treatment decisions based purely on the cost of care,” Louis J. DeGennaro, PhD, LLS president and CEO, said in a news release. “The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has the reputation and convening power to bring together stakeholders across the healthcare system to work together to break down barriers that stand between patients and their cancer treatment. Patients must have access to the treatments they need to survive.”
Even those with health insurance are affected by the rising costs of cancer care, the organization said, adding that the cost of treating blood cancers is markedly more than the costs of treating many other cancer types. Studies have shown that patients with Medicare Part D are five times more likely to abandon their treatment when faced with unaffordable cost-sharing.
Those living with blood cancer are frequently required to pay thousands of dollars annually in co-pays and other care costs. Such out-of-pocket costs can for years cause stress for cancer patients in remission, who must continue with treatments and other follow-up care. In fact, the majority of calls to the LLS in recent years have been about soaring care costs.
Two years ago, the LLS launched its Cost of Cancer Care initiative to develop robust but workable cost-slashing ideas that would not undercut care quality. Since then, the organization has had discussions about rising cancer care costs with legislative healthcare leaders, met with representatives of Health and Human Services, collaborated with policy advocates nationwide, and shaped and supported several money-saving regulatory changes.
Several of the organization’s policy recommendations have been adopted, including reducing certain hospital overpayments that, in turn, fostered hospital consolidation; accelerating into the market lower-cost alternatives to brand-name drugs; and promoting lower-cost biosimilar versions of pricey biologic medications. The LLS also initiated a test of a major Medicare Part D reform that reduces costs for patients and taxpayers.
In March, the organization called on Congress to enact 31 healthcare system cost-saving policies (outlined here), including lowering hospital payments for services that can be delivered in less-expensive clinics, cracking down on pharmaceutical company tactics to extend monopoly pricing, slashing regulations that impede the ability of insurers to hold these companies and providers accountable for patient outcomes, providing tools for patient/clinician talks concerning the value of each treatment option, and raising transparency by holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for exorbitant list prices while capping out-of-pocket liabilities for therapies.
The LLS is the largest volunteer health agency globally dedicated to fighting leukemia and other blood cancers. It also offers financial support to lymphoma and other blood cancer patients.