Are we spending too much money on cancer compared to other diseases?

At MedCity CONVERGE on July 12, panelists discussed rising oncology costs and posed questions about how the nation is spending its healthcare dollars.

provider venture capital,

Healthcare isn’t an industry known for its low prices. On day two of the MedCity CONVERGE conference in Philadelphia, panelists took to the stage to talk through the complexities of pricing and access, particularly as they apply to cancer care.

As the oncology field has progressed, some factors have improved.

“One of the things that has evolved is our ability to collect the data,” said Gary Kurzman, senior vice president and managing director of healthcare for Safeguard Scientifics.

Robert Dubois, chief science officer and executive vice president of the National Pharmaceutical Council, added another positive: There are numerous drugs out in the cancer space helping a lot of individuals.

But multiple panelists pointed out that such drugs are expensive. “Usually in addition to the expense of the medications, we tend to devote a lot of resources to where there’s a lot of cost,” Steven Lucio, Vizient’s associate vice president of pharmacy services, said.

Patrick Davish, Merck’s associate vice president for global and US pricing/market access, weighed in on why the dollars are flowing into oncology. While we’ve conquered numerous chronic diseases, cancer remains the last frontier. “I think a lot of money is going into it because that’s where the need is,” he said.

Still, the point about cost brings to light a difficult question that Dubois posed: “Are we spending too much money on cancer care relative to other diseases, relative to preventive care?”

While undoubtedly a tough issue to unravel, the query is an important one. “If you look at the cost of cancer treatment relative to the benefit, that equation looks different than it does for other diseases,” Dubois said.

As a society, we need to probe deeper into these questions, he noted. Do we want to overinvest in cancer treatment? Do we want to spend more on children with cancer as opposed to patients of other ages? What if, Dubois asked, we looked at every disease state and asked what the bang for the buck is?

“These are horrible questions, but we’ve got to answer them,” he said.

In an effort to start a conversation around these topics, Dubois’ organization, the National Pharmaceutical Council, has launched an initiative called Going Below the Surface. The project seeks to bring various stakeholders together to start a conversation about how the United States uses healthcare resources and dollars.

Photo: adventtr, Getty Images