HOUSTON – The cost to battle cancer increases year after year. The rising price for treatment provides incentive for newer and better medicines, but these drugs can also leave patients bankrupt.
Programs designed to help patients afford their medicines could also be adding to all the costs.
Karen Moore does everything she can to survive, sometimes even paying more than $10,000 a month.
"I don’t know that I was ever prepared for this to be all consuming," she said. "It's changed every aspect of my life."
Her doctors say people with her cancer live, on average, a year. She's speaking out for the fighters who will proceed her, because every year, the battle gets more expensive.
"The launch prices of cancer drugs are rising by about 10 percent, or $8,500 a year," said David Howard, associate professor at the Department of Health Policy and Management at Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University. "Companies are free to set whatever price they like."
Here's why prices rise year after year. Investors are attracted to funding research and development, because drug companies can set prices as high as they want.
The drug companies drive up prices in order to continue developing more, sometimes even pricier prescriptions, which falls back into the investors' banks.
"Manufacturing costs have little to do with the prices of the drugs," Howard said.
Insurance companies often take on most of the bill for cancer treatment.
"It means that drug companies can set even higher prices, knowing that patients will always take the drugs, because they're not the ones that are going to be paying for it," Howard said.
Drug companies offer added incentive for patients to get expensive drugs. Patient assistance programs, run by the drug companies, cover those up-front costs for the patient.
Click here for more on getting help through a patient assistance program.
But what's good for the patient could be crippling the system.
"The bill is being footed by insurance companies, who have to pay higher prices, so ultimately, we all have to pay higher costs in terms of higher premiums," Howard said.
Insurance companies have accused drug companies of using these programs to inflate costs. In 2012, several class action suits were filed against drug makers, likening the programs to “kickbacks,” stating, "A recent study estimated that these kickbacks will increase health benefit provider's prescription drug costs by $32 billion over the next 10 years."
All lawsuits were eventually dismissed. Many patients, like Moore, don't even qualify for those and is in over her head with costs.
"I just sometimes hold my breath. It's a full time job managing the paperwork, the expenses," Moore said. "At what point is enough? Where is enough?"