By Arlene Weintraub
When state legislators started enacting laws in 2011 to prevent insurance companies from charging patients more for oral cancer drugs than they do for cheaper, infused medicines, the idea was to shield the public from sky-high, out-of-pocket drug costs. But a new study is raising disturbing questions about the effectiveness of these “parity” laws, which have been enacted in 43 states and the District of Columbia.
The bottom line finding: Cancer patients whose drug spending was the highest actually saw their out-of-pocket costs increase under parity laws. In fact, for those whose medication costs were 95% higher than those of other cancer patients before parity, the out-of-pocket burden increased by $143.25 a month after the laws were enacted. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina and Harvard Medical School and published today in the journal JAMA Oncology.
The findings raise serious questions about whether parity laws are actually achieving what their designers hoped they would, says lead author Stacie Dusetzina, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “Advocates of parity laws are interested in making sure that the out-of-pocket prices paid by patients are affordable and equitable across the types of therapies that they’re getting,” Dusetzina says. “But we saw an increase in the proportion of prescriptions that cost over $100. That was really concerning to us.”