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Americans have more access to cancer drugs

BALTIMORE, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. cancer patients with insurance have access to more drugs than do British patients, but pay out of pocket for some that Brits get free, researcher say.

Study leader Ruth R. Faden, director of The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute for Bioethics in Baltimore, and colleagues compared the costs of 11 high-priced cancer drugs in Britain and America. Seven of the medications are free to all British patients, who pay no out-of-pocket costs. The other four are not covered in the British National Health Service system because policy-makers have determined the costs are not worth the limited benefits they provide. British patients can pay for these drugs themselves.

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Most U.S. patients who have health insurance have some coverage for all 11 drugs, but the out-of-pocket costs for people on U.S. Medicare range from $1,200 to $24,000, and because many cancer patients on Medicare are on more than one drug, their out-of-pocket costs are often much higher, the study said.

Patients with no insurance or limited insurance may have no access to the drugs because the costs exceed $100,000 annually in some cases, the study said.

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For many, certain drugs will only extend life for a few weeks or months, and that time can be marked by severe side effects from the drugs themselves, but choosing which path to pursue at the end of life is an agonizing decision, Faden noted in an article for the December issue of Milbank Quarterly.

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