The term “Fake News” is fraught with partisan political implications. But as communications specialists who work with reporters to tell a clear and accurate story – no spin, just real facts – we frequently run into a wall of fake news and sloppy reporting, often from usually reliable and credible outlets.
One recent article (I won’t include the links, because I don’t want to promote these stories) quoted a person with an agenda who said a drug that costs $150,000 per QALY costs too much. “A QALY (pronounced ‘kwaly’) is a quality-adjusted life year, the metric that health economists use to measure the value of medical treatments over time.”
At face value, that’s arbitrary and not very patient friendly. Jennifer Hinkel, a health economist, graduate of the London School of Economics and a cancer survivors herself writes, “If the QALY sounds discriminatory, it is: Many health economists have warned that the QALY can lead to unfavorable and inequitable patient outcomes. Under this system, if you get sick, you become a fraction, and your time no longer has the same value as a fully healthy person.”*
Still, some sincere and well-meaning patient advocates we work with said they get it, but how are we going to pay for all of these new medicines? How? They’d have the answer if more reporters would tell the whole story.
The answer? We don’t have to pay for all this. It pays for itself.
Bottom line, the QALY is not a quality measure, and by some measures may even run contrary to current healthcare law.** The article failed to cite peer-reviewed journal studies that show these modern, innovative medicines actually reduce overall healthcare costs by keeping patients out of the hospital – the most expensive form of care. The article failed to note that keeping patients working and active CONTRIBUTES to the economy; it doesn’t subtract from it.
And as a percent of our total healthcare bill, it is NOT going to break the bank. Specialty medicines, such as treatments for cancer, are used by less than 1 percent of all patients, and equal less than 4 percent of our total healthcare spending.
That should be covered if reporting is to be fair and accurate.
Still, reporters focus on individual patient stories, and patients don’t care about societal benefits when they can’t afford their meds.
In fact, another recent article told about a patient suing a pharmaceutical company because he saw “his copay rise from $42 for a four-week supply of the drug to $250.”
That’s a great example of patients not being able to afford their meds and at the same time it shows where the finger should be pointed. We all know copays come from insurance and healthcare plans, not from pharmaceutical companies.
But the reporting is worse than that. As our colleague, healthcare economist Robert Goldberg, Ph.D. points out, the list price of his medication increased by 33 percent while the copay increased 500 percent. Now who is to blame?
Everyone should have access to their meds, but misreporting the source of the problem is inaccurate and misleading and helps no one.
Pharmaceutical industry gets a bad rap.
The bigger problem is the pharmaceutical industry saves lives, changes the course of cancer, heart disease, HIV and many other serious conditions, but has become the bad guy and put on the defensive. There are many reasons for that, and the industry could do better to bolster its own achievements.
But our focus here is the patients, and as communications specialists we know that balanced, clear, complete, honest and responsible reporting can preserve all that new medicines have to offer, without threatening the medical advances that are keeping patients alive … and, oh yes, saving the system money.