China slashes price for cancer medicine to ensure affordability for all
By Li Jingjing
Even today, cancer is still one of the most difficult diseases to tackle.
According to a research study conducted by the National Cancer Center of China released in 2018, there were about 3.8 million new cases in 2014 in China.
That means at least seven new patients are diagnosed with cancer every minute.
In China, the most common forms of cancer for men are lung cancer, gastric cancer and liver cancer. For females, they are breast cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Deaths from lung cancer are the highest among all cancers.
“Most patients have already reached the late stage of cancer when they are diagnosed. The later they are diagnosed, the fewer methods we could take, and less positive effects we could achieve,” said Dr. Zhang Shucai, the director of the Department of Oncology at Beijing Chest Hospital, when explaining why the death rate of lung cancer is relatively higher in China.
But cancer brings more than physical pain to patients, it also brings a tremendous financial burden to them and their families.
Taking medicines for targeted therapy is one of the most effective treatments for cancer patients. But many medicines are imported, and are not covered by the country’s public health insurance. This means that cancer medicine can cost a patient hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket every year.
So some families barely scrape by in order to keep their loved ones alive, even going so far as to smuggle cheap copycat drugs from India.
However, the situation has improved since last September.
Access for every patient
Through the Chinese government’s procurement and negotiations, the price for imported medicine dropped drastically. Also, most cancer medicines were put on the list of drugs that are covered by public health insurance, netting patients savings of up to 88 percent.
This year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that there will be no tariffs for imported cancer medicine. That will help patients save a further 10 to 20 percent.
So just how much money can a cancer patient save?
Take the drug Bevacizumab, one of the most common medicines for lung cancer, as an example. Before September 2017, lung cancer patients had to spend 25,985 yuan every month. After the price was reduced in September, the drug came down to 9,990 yuan per month. That means a price cut of more than 50 percent.
After medical insurance, patients only need to pay 1,898 yuan per month, or less than one-tenth of the drug’s cost before price reductions.
After tax cuts, the price could go down to 1,518 yuan.
Zhang said even though targeted therapy is effective, few could take it before.
“But now we can feel the change: many more patients can try the medicines for targeted therapy,” he said.
Allowing more imported medicines not only satisfies patients' urgent need for better treatment, it will also spur domestic pharmaceutical companies to develop China's own medicines.
This year, the Chinese government emphasized speeding up the timeline for the tariff cuts, for importing newly developed medicine and adding them under the scope of the country’s public health insurance.
As part of the global community, China is working toward making the most advanced medicine from all corners of the world accessible for every patient.