Cancer pills suffer from red tape

Drugmakers have gone to lots of trouble to pack cancer-fighting power into pills and capsules. Too bad insurance companies haven't kept up with the effort.

Oral drugs are expected to account for 25 percent of all cancer meds within just a few years, up from less than 10 percent now, the New York Times reports. And there's no doubt that oral meds are easier for patients to take. They might even cost the healthcare system less, because they don't require the office visits and nursing care that traditional intravenous treatments do.

But insurers are making it tough for patients to experience those advantages--and for drugmakers to recoup their investments in these forms of treatment. Infused meds are covered as medical benefits, while oral meds are paid for under prescription drug plans, which tend to pass along huge copayments to cancer patients. So some patients don't take all their meds. Even Medicare makes using oral cancer pills more difficult than using IV meds.

Then there's the physician angle: As you know, oncologists can make big profits by infusing cancer treatments in their clinics. Not so for oral drugs. So what incentive do docs have to prescribe the pills and capsules?

Thorny questions that drugmakers will have to address to market their oral treatments effectively.

- read the NYT story