Almost All Oncologists Experienced a Drug Shortage in Last Year

Almost all oncologists reported experiencing cancer drug shortages over the last year, noting that shortages have been increasing, unfortunately. These drug shortages have caused the financial burdens on practices and patients to increase severely.

Almost all oncologists reported experiencing cancer drug shortages over the last year, according to the Community Oncology Alliance (COA).

The drug shortage survey of 200 practices (representing 525 physicians), revealed that 98.9% of physicians had experienced a drug shortage in the last 12 months, which affected their patients’ health in some cases.

The drug shortage severely impacted patient prognosis, severity of side effects and cost to the patient, according to the survey. In more than 60% of patients, the cancer progressed more quickly because of the drug shortage, according to respondents. More than 70% had more severe side effects.

The financial burden was more severe for more than 80% of patients and more than 90% of practices affected by the shortages, according to the survey.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, according to COA’s survey. A total of 58% of physician respondents indicated that the shortage in cancer drugs is actually increasing.

"The root cause of the drug shortage is economic," Ted Okon, executive director of COA, said in a statement. "The Medicare system for reimbursing for cancer drugs has created pricing instability. That has resulted in disincentives for manufactures to produce these low-cost but vital generic cancer drugs, as well as to invest in manufacturing facilities for these products."

Patients faced higher costs when their doctors made drug substitutions as a result of the drug shortage.

For instance, leucovorin—commonly used to treat ovarian cancer—costs Medicare $35 a dose with a patient co-pay of only $9, according to Patrick Cobb, MD, an oncologist and past COA president. However, leucovorin is a generic drug that is in short supply. The replacement brand drug is available, Cobb said in a statement, but costs Medicare $2,000 a dose with a patient co-pay of $520.