Killing U.S. Slowly: Curing the Epidemic Rise of Cancer Drug Prices

Emily K. White


In August 2015, more than 110 U.S. oncologists published an article detailing the deleterious effects of rising cancer drugs prices and calling for numerous reforms to our prescription drug system. These prices are the result of decades of political maneuvering; they reflect the way our country has chosen to pay for healthcare, to foster and reward innovation, and to promote a national free market system. While these choices have resulted in immense profits for pharmaceutical companies—and subsidized the development of prescription drugs globally—they have also left many cancer patients unable to afford their medications. And, without providing significant improvements in life expectancy, the rising prices of cancer drugs seem like an unreasonable burden on U.S. healthcare spending. A multitude of reforms have been proposed. At the federal level, many of the reforms seek to amend existing regulatory regimes, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, reforming the patent system, and allowing patients to import drugs from other countries. The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have pushed back against almost all of them. Some of these proposals are more ambitious than others; some more likely to succeed. With costs rising every day, policy makers, legislators, and industry professionals need to focus their attention on those reforms that are attainable and will result in sustainable, reduced prescription drug prices. This paper discusses various U.S. regulatory frameworks that impact prescription drug prices and evaluates proposed reforms to these frameworks in terms of which ones are most likely to succeed.