Should we extend people lives, no matter how little, without regard to financial cost?
I know I’m in the minority when I say no, but I think my point of view got a big bump for why it’s right from last week’s FDA approval of a melanoma drug from Bristol-Myers. The standard treatment calls for patients getting four doses of the intravenous medicine during a three-month period. The cost? A mere $120,000, a figure analysts at investment bank Leerink Swann today called, “Significantly above our previous assumed U.S. pricing of $50,000 per patient per year.”
Even at 50 grand, is having your life possibly extended a few months—if that—worth that much money? Hey, if it’s all coming out of your own pocket, do whatever floats your boat. But we all know that Americans don’t pay for their own health care, third parties do, and the biggest third party is government.
At a time that the red-ink flood shows no sign of abating, it’s long past time for cost/benefit analysis regarding end-of-life care. That’s where a big portion of health-care dollars are spent, not on treating ailments but in the monitoring and treating of the gravely ill.
The UK has a regulator that does take cost/benefit into account when deciding whether it should be paid for by the country’s health system. For example, it has rejected Roche’s Avastin cancer drug—which can cost $8,000 a month—twice for treating various tumors, saying the money’s not worth the expense or was unsure it had any benefit at all.
So as Americans, are we willing to have that debate? Or are too many people still too squeamish and put off to do so, at the risk of this nation’s financial and political health?