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In Cancer Care, Cost Matters

A phenomenally expensive new cancer drug, Zaltrap, was not more clinically effective than existing medicines for colorectal cancer yet it was priced more than twice as high so we refused to offer it.

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Originally published on 10/14/2012 in The New York Times

In most industries something that offers no advantage over its competitors and yet sells for twice the price would never even get on the market.

But that is not how things work for drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves drugs if they are shown to be “safe and effective.” It does not consider what the relative costs might be once the new medicine is marketed. By law, Medicare must cover every cancer drug the FDA approves.

Ignoring the cost of care, though, is no longer tenable. Soaring spending has presented the medical community with a new obligation. When choosing treatments for a patient, we have to consider the financial strains they may cause alongside the benefits they might deliver.

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