Media Reports Often Overlook Value of Medicines

Media Reports Often Overlook Value of Medicines

05.07.14 | By

So often the value of medicines gets lost in media reports when the focus is almost exclusively on cost.

Are we as a society willing to accept the fact that medicines, while not always inexpensive, provide great return on value because a child’s life has been saved or a friend was able to beat cancer? 

If you look at the macro picture of health care in the U.S. over the last few decades, it is really quite astonishing to see all of the incredible progress that has been made in the battle against disease – because of the investments we, as a society, have made in medicines. 

For example, one of the most complex and deadly cancers – leukemia – can now be treated with groundbreaking medicines, which have nearly tripled the 5-year survival rate for patients. In 1999, this was unheard of because there was a lack of effective treatment options.  The five-year survival rate for children with cancer also went from 58 percent in the mid-1970s to 83 percent today.  And, a vaccine was developed to help prevent cervical cancer, which used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the U.S.   

All of these incredible life-changing treatments have helped millions of patients live longer lives and have also helped avoid costly hospitalizations, surgeries and other types of interventions that are more invasive.  And it is groundbreaking medicines that have paid it forward in some respect – they have provided the means to finance other innovative treatments for patients battling disease.

So if you take a step back and think about the value that these innovative medicines have provided to society, many people, particularly patients and their families, will say that medicines provide a great return on value.

Something I’ve always struggled with first as a mother of three children who are healthy, in part due to vaccines, and second as a representative of this industry, is the fact that the incredibly challenging work that has been done by biopharmaceutical companies to advance science, and save lives, is often overlooked by the media.  There are, however, a few exceptions.  For example, there was a great commentary in Scientific American explaining the complexities of the research and development process for innovative treatments and how this factors into the cost of a medicine.

We should be celebrating the fact that there are more than 5,000 medicines in the biopharmaceutical pipeline – many of which can hopefully help patients with unmet medical needs.  And, we should also recognize that millions of patients with diseases such as cystic fibrosis or Hepatitis C who just a few years ago did not have treatment options can now live years and even decades longer as productive and healthy members of society because of the life-enhancing medicines that have been developed.

Like most Americans, I understand that we must confront the budgetary pressures in our country.  But it is important to keep in mind that innovative medicines are only a small piece of the health care spending pie – roughly 10 percent (spending on oncologic medicines represented less than one percent of total national health expenditures in 2012).  And the medicines that make up that 10 percent are an important investment in the nation’s health today and tomorrow.  

A gifted leader in the science and technology field once said that if elected leaders want to strive to spend less of our intellectual power and money on great achievements to come in healthcare and continue to fight to make health care a smaller piece of our economy, then what would they want to make a bigger piece of our economy?  He specifically asked, “What do you want to see the future to look like?”

I, for one, believe that medical innovation – particularly medicines – is a gift that can keep on giving but only if we recognize its worth and ensure our systems are prepared to embrace the science. To do so, we need to shift gears in a way that allows us to see that new discoveries and improvements in science and medicine are solutions to some of the greatest challenges that lay before us today and tomorrow.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway I have after reading these articles is basing a medical decision on cost alone, without examining the medicine’s broader value within society, is a disservice to patients. Continuing to discuss this issue is important, but all perspectives must be included to identify patient-centered solutions. 




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