Addressing the Cost of Cancer Drugs: A Guide to Patient Support Services

Patient Support Services Guide 2019


It is no secret that the cost of cancer drugs continues to escalate, resulting in significant financial burden for patients. And when it comes to cancer, the financial stress is compounded by the enormous emotional stress associated with a cancer diagnosis, which can affect survival.

With innovation in cancer therapies reaching new milestones as novel targeted therapies and immunotherapies are introduced to the US marketplace, the clinical benefits to patients are obvious, further highlighting the urgent need to ensure access to these life-saving medicines to all patients. It is, therefore, paramount that all oncology providers and oncology practices address the cost of medicines they prescribe for their patients and offer help to those facing financial toxicities.

Even patients with insurance can face detrimental financial barriers, stemming from insufficient drug coverage; high out-of-pocket copays, coinsurance, or deductibles; the high cost of transportation to and from cancer centers; and the potential loss of employment linked to a cancer diagnosis.

To the credit of US pharmaceutical companies, many have stepped up to the plate by offering extensive patient support services for their cancer drugs—in the form of reduced costs for patients with insufficient coverage, or free medications for those without insurance or with very low income. These services also often offer patient education, assistance with prior authorization and denials, and reimbursement services for providers. Furthermore, federal programs and nonprofit organizations provide resources and financial support to address barriers to optimal cancer care.

Many oncology practices today offer financial counseling to their patients, yet other practices and oncology institutions still do not provide dedicated financial counselors on staff, leaving patients to face their financial difficulties alone. Even worse, many providers still avoid the discussion of cost with their patients, and knowledge of the specific support services offered by pharmaceutical companies is often lacking.

To address these challenges and fill this important unmet need, the Fifth Annual Oncology Guide to Patient Support Services provides an easy-to-use, comprehensive manual for the offices of financial counselors and oncology practices to assist them in helping their patients navigate the cost of cancer medications.

This latest edition of the Guide provides important updates on the many new programs offered by pharmaceutical companies, including the numerous novel cancer drugs approved in 2018 and new or updated support services offered by many companies. This expanded Guide reflects the growing focus of drug companies on affordable access to their cancer medications.

It is also encouraging that manufacturers of oncology biosimilars approved by the FDA in 2018 are now offering patient support services in tandem with the launch of their biosimilars, as is reflected in this Guide. Biosimilars offer equivalent efficacy at reduced cost, a key consideration for patients with cancer, yet even they may carry a stiff price tag. In the words of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, who spoke on July 18, 2018, at the Brookings Institution about the need to encourage drug ­innovation, “To make sure that the next generation of breakthroughs remains affordable, it requires vibrant competition from biosimilars.”

The information in this new edition of the Guide reflects the wealth and scope of patient support services offered by US pharmaceutical companies to patients with cancer. We urge all providers and oncology practices to review this information and address financial issues with their patients.